Negative Trends in Veterinary Medicine Prompt Study, New Interview Technique

Declining salaries, falling incomes and the perception that new graduates werent fully prepared to succeed prompted nine U.S. veterinary schools to invest $110,000 in consulting fees to identify behaviors of successful veterinarians and screen students for those traits, said sources. The effort to identify successful behaviors dates back to 1998, when AAHA, AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) commissioned the KPMG study to assess the state of the industry. It sparked the creation of NCVEI and since then at least two additional studies have identified the need for better communication and business skills. The University of Minnesota is one of the first colleges to implement the results of these studies to change its interview process and screen students for communication skills, said Laura Molgaard, DVM, associate dean of academic and student affairs.

Personnel Decisions International (PDI) was hired by the college consortium to define veterinary success, including financial and community criteria, Molgaard said. PDI interviewed 281 veterinarians from six states and devised 10 sets of questions that reveal a student’s ability and interest in building relationships, motivating others, seeking ways to improve a clinic’s performance and ultimately driving business results; all traits that will ultimately improve clinic profitability, Molgaard said.

“Traditionally colleges have relied on GPA and GRE test scores to be a good predictor of a student’s ability to handle the rigors of the curriculum,” said Andrew Maccabe, DVM, MPH, JD, AAVMC associate executive director, “but it has not been a good predictor of the skills, knowledge, attitudes and aptitudes [(SKAAs) identified as key components of successful veterinarians by the studies.]”

As a result, acceptance at some colleges will now be based on grades, test scores and personal abilities, which include teamwork and communication, Molgaard said. “The reason it is so important to select certain competencies is that research shows that those competencies are not likely to develop over four years. If you want integrity you better select for it rather than spending all your energies trying to develop it.”

For practicing veterinarians, the tool is expected to produce veterinarians who can improve compliance, which impacts animal health and bottom lines, Molgaard said. Long-term effects of the screening technique may take four or more years to impact practices, but industry members wonder how students and recent graduates will react to this emphasis on “softer” skills of communication.

These questions are designed to extract examples of how applicants acted in specific situations compared to traditional interviews that pose generic questions about strengths and weaknesses, which are “not likely to give you useful answers,” Molgaard added. “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.”

The consortium has made the interview tool available to colleges at no charge, said Maccabe, and the PDI study results were published in the July 2003 JAVMA.