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Fresh look for orientation focuses on community

We. Belong. Here.  One simple statement encompasses everything first-year student veterinarians need to know as they walk through the doors of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) this week.

The theme will be front and centre throughout their orientation and referenced regularly throughout their four years in the DVM program at the University of Guelph’s OVC.

It is part of a fresh look to this year’s orientation program at OVC, focusing on key concepts of collaboration, teamwork, and self-awareness and culminating with an off-site orientation camp to help students connect and begin to build the relationships they will continue throughout their veterinary career.

“Our goal during orientation week is to set the building blocks in place for our students to use self-awareness and personal development tools in their first year of veterinary education and beyond,” says OVC professor Dr. Deep Khosa, who focuses on veterinary primary healthcare teaching and research, and is part of the organizing team for the off-site orientation camp.

“Over the past two years, in particular, OVC has been placing significantly increased emphasis on student veterinarian wellness, through integrated curricular and co-curricular activities. As a framework, we are creating and implementing OVC-specific learning outcomes for each of the widely-recognized domains of wellness, and are ensuring that our students benefit from these learning opportunities in class, in lab, and while participating in activities such as Orientation week,” says Dr. Peter Conlon, Associate Dean, Students.

Both Conlon and Khosa are part of the AWAR2E group, Advancement of Wellness and Resilience in Research and Education, a group of OVC researchers engaged in mental health and wellness research and initiatives for veterinarians, student veterinarians and agricultural producers.

“We want the students to feel they belong here and recognize every bit of the success and hard work it took to get here,” explains Salomon Schroeter, Class of 2020 co-president and Orientation Chair.

The first three days of orientation will include a number of group and one-on-one activities, to encourage the Class of 2021 to get to know one another.

The week winds up with the two-day outdoor camp at Bark Lake.  Sponsored by VCA Canada, the orientation camp will focus on community building and community engagement - concepts introduced earlier in the week.

“VCA Canada is excited to celebrate OVC orientation week alongside the 2021 future veterinarians. Caring for life’s greatest champions is what all of us in the veterinary community strive for,” says Jen Danyliw, VCA Canada Senior Operations Director, Ontario. “Together we are a community of health care providers and VCA is excited to contribute to OVC orientation week and support our future professionals.

“The off-campus environment will allow students the space and time to begin building the connections and relationships that will be with them for the next four years and in the years after graduation,” says Khosa. “They will have the space and time to experiment with concepts we’ve introduced during the first few days of orientation.”

Large and small group activities will challenge students to work together to accomplish tasks while developing teamwork and leadership skills. OVC facilitators will lead debrief discussion sessions after the activities to discuss the relevance for student veterinarians and help them build self-reflection skills.

Prior to their arrival at OVC, first-year students participated in a strengths awareness assessment. While this isn’t a new piece in orientation, it will be applied differently this year. Each student’s name tag lists their top five strengths on the back to constantly remind them of their strengths.

“This is one of the things we discuss and reflect on at camp. We want to recognize the students’ strengths and how these will help them as individuals and as group members in their assigned practice groups,” adds Schroeter.

During the week, students will also engage in a lollipop leadership activity, sponsored by the second-year Ruby Rhinos class. Students will be asked to honour the ruby moment by passing along a lollipop to someone who has made a difference in leading by example.

"This focuses on the whole idea of servant leadership", says Schroeter. “Servant leaders empower others by bringing out their unique qualities and encouraging them to build on that skill set. Something as small as giving someone a lollipop will change their awareness of how small, normally unrecognized acts can foster relationships and empower them to embrace the servant leader in all of us.”

Students will also be encouraged to write a letter to themselves and hand it back to the second-year DVM student guides assigned to their group for safe keeping. If they take a look at that letter during their four years in the DVM program it will include a couple of key reminders – their success in being accepted to OVC’s DVM program and why they want to be a veterinarian.

The ultimate goal: to assure students that they belong here as part of the OVC community.

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