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Experiential learning increases veterinary communication confidence

Student veterinarians at the Ontario Veterinary CollegeIn the veterinary world, experience is a great teacher – and that’s why students at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) are getting as many practical experiences as possible, to round out their education in a hands-on way.

Department of Population Medicine Masters student, Daniella Barron, and supervisor Prof. Deep Khosa, researched the effects on students of experiential learning opportunities, such as working in the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre at the OVC.

They believe communication confidence is key to ensuring positive and efficient workplace interactions. They found students’ confidence in most communication areas was greatly improved through experiential learning, in explaining diseases, communicating treatment plans, and conversations around euthanasia.

“Often, the hardest task for students is to effectively communicate their scientific knowledge into conversations with clients. So OVC is using experiential learning techniques to help students gain communication confidence and aid these interactions,” says Khosa.

Students complete rotations at a variety of clinics and in clinical environments during their fourth-year, to help them gain experience in the field before graduation. Researchers looked at one rotation all students attend – that is, working for three weeks at the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre.

In this rotation, under the guidance of the medical team, students participate in daily clinic life, from performing puppy vaccinations to euthanasia.

Researchers administered questionnaires at the beginning and end of the placement that surveyed students’ confidence in their communication skills with clients in the process of conducting appointments. Specifically, researchers focused on communication of medical knowledge, pet nutrition and animal behaviour.

Overall, students reported that they felt significantly more confident in their communication at the end of their placement than at the beginning. They reported improvement in almost all communication areas addressed, developing skills such as explaining illnesses and treatments, building rapport with clients, and more easily conducting appointments.

The one area in which they struggled was controlling emotions during euthanasia appointments, although they said communication around euthanasia improved. Researchers explained this outcome was not unexpected due to the sensitive nature of euthanasia and say that future work may explore this further.

New research underway with Dr. Khosa’s graduate student Alisha Matte is exploring pet owners’ experience and perceptions of companion animal euthanasia to better help veterinary professionals support pet owners.

Take a tour of the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College on OVC Instagram.

Article by Sydney Pearce, SPARK writer

(Photo: Ontario Veterinary College student veterinarians gain hands-on experience during a three-week rotation at the Hill's Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre.)