VMRCVM Hosts Southeast Veterinary Admissions Conference
July 18, 2003
One of the strategies that academic and professional association leaders believe will help develop a more business and communications "savvy" veterinary profession is to select and then train students who demonstrate strength in those areas.
That notion was recently considered by about 30 faculty members from several southeastern veterinary colleges who attended a two-day veterinary college admissions workshop hosted by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.
"We in academic veterinary medicine are the gatekeepers of the profession," said VMRCVM Dean Peter Eyre during introductory remarks. "How will the profession change if the schools do not?" Eyre said that communication, business and leadership skills are essential in all areas of clinical, corporate and government practice and that the schools have an enormous obligation to select students that can promote the future success of the profession.
The two-day symposium, entitled "A Fresh Look at Veterinary Medical School Admissions: Putting the Cart Before the Horse?" was organized by VMRCVM Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Grant Turnwald and featured four-hour presentations by two noted experts.
Dr. Bob Lewis, an organizational psychologist with Personnel Decisions International, Inc., made a presentation entitled "Non-Technical Competencies Underlying Career Success as a Veterinarian," and "Face to Face! Making the Case for the Selection Interview" was presented by Dr. John Molidor, a professor and assistant dean for Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine and CEO and President of the medical school's Flint campus.
Lewis kicked off the seminar by reviewing the recently conducted PDI study that was designed to identify some of the non-technical behaviors and experiences that lead to successful performance as a veterinarian using assessment techniques commonly employed in industry.
Commissioned by Iowa State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Purdue, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, the study also defined some strategies for developing the desired competencies in the profession and created a behaviorally-based interview guide for assessing the target qualities among student applicants.
Lewis began his presentation with the sobering news that the data confirms anecdotal impressions that the veterinary profession is viewed in a very technical and clinical manner that does not require business and communication skills. Lewis reported three of the requisite listed skills for veterinary medicine involved dexterity and four involved thinking, while none involved "life" skills like communications competence.
Lewis identified several components of human performance such as skills, knowledge and experience, which are more easily developed, he said; and abilities, traits, interests, (contactname, contactphone, contactemail, headline, leadsentence, morepara, releasedate, storysource, releasenumber, college, itemnumber, releaseyear) VALUES and motivations which are difficult to develop. The PDI study was posited around three deliverables: defining success, identifying the competencies that can promote success, and career paths.
The PDI study sought to define "success" in veterinary medicine by conducting qualitative research assessments of about 300 veterinarians in private practice, government, industry, and academia. The researchers determined that "success" was defined by the sample more as a function of personal fulfillment and helping others than it was by monetary compensation. That contrasted with the KPMG "MegaStudy" data that demonstrated that beginning veterinarians tend to rate income as 12th out of 9 factors and older veterinarians tend to see income ranked at two or three on a success scale.
The research also identified six skill targets that could promote more success in the profession. Those included obtaining business/political acumen, focusing one's career, growing through change, achieving life balance, managing people and processes and satisfying stakeholders.
Competencies believed to promote success included interpersonal skills, self-management skills, communication skills, leadership skills, practice/business skills and critical thinking skills. The study also identified an entrepreneurial "super-factor" which described successful veterinarians who were business-oriented, autonomous in action, innovative and results-driven.
The PDI study recommends that the veterinary profession focus on selecting candidates for admission who have the abilities, traits and interests which are believed to promote success, and said these qualities can be discerned using personality assessment instruments, structured interview formats and trained interview teams. The consortium of veterinary colleges that funded the study will receive a structured interview guide that contains a set of situational questions specially designed to discern the target behavioral qualities, Lewis said. Work is underway to make those questions available to non-participating schools on a fee basis, Lewis said. The study also recommended that the profession develop realistic job career previews for applicants and mentoring programs for students.
During small-group workshops, participating faculty members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the study and its implications. Some faculty suggested methodological limitations of the study that centered around geographic representations, the study's lack of definition for "failure" and a sample that included about twice as many men as it did women, when academia is biased far more toward female enrollment.
Faculty were generally accepting of the need to hone in on behavioral qualities in students during the interview process, but some indicated that the existing interview formats include an effort to do that. Others expressed concern about the time-intensive nature of the interview process, and some concern about the legal implications of certain interview strategies.
Interviews are an important part of the admissions process at most of the North American veterinary colleges. According to Dr. John Molidor, interviews are designed to gather information about applicants, serve as a useful assessment instrument for decision-making, verify other information regarding the candidacy, and ultimately serve as a recruiting tool. It is important that interviewers fully understand and focus on the specific categories they wish to assess during the interview process, he said.
During the Thursday morning segment of the program Molidor led the group through a program designed to help them become more effective interviewers. During an open question-and-answer session that preceded much of his formal presentation, he commented on a number of written questions provided by workshop participants.
Asked about the usefulness of "hot" interviews, where the assessment team has access to an applicant's academic and personal records beforehand, and "cold" interviews, where they know nothing about a candidate, Molidor explained that research shows there is an inherent "halo effect" with the former. The VMRCVM uses a dual process hot and cold team approach in order to circumvent that bias.
Molidor said that all interviewers can be trained to become better assessors through formal exercises and through experience. He also said that applicants are very adept at "hiding" themselves if they desire to and warned that interviewers who stay "on the surface" can get "faked out." He said that skillful interviewers can learn how to "probe the true self" of a candidate with sensitivity and the use of situational questions that require the candidate to disclose more themselves than more objective questions.
Molidor said that the optimal time for an interview is from 20-45 minutes and that no more than four to five specific categories should be assessed during the event. He advised using a six-point scale rather than a ten-point scale in evaluating candidates because it forces the interviewer to reason through the candidate's strengths and weaknesses.
He said research has demonstrated that the best number of interviewers is three; more than that tends to create unacceptable anxiety levels in candidates and less than that tends to lose the effectiveness of the group dynamic. The VMRCVM uses a 4:1 ratio with hot teams and a 2:1 ratio with cold teams.
He said that interview teams should try to be aware of the personality characteristics of their candidates and "create a space in which either the extrovert or the introvert" can be comfortable. Interviewers should be careful not to "overwhelm or underwhelm" their candidates, he said. The tone of the interview should follow a bell-shaped curve, he said, with a pleasant and smooth introduction, a gradual intensification, and then a gradual wind-down.
Molidor suggested his "SELECT" model can help interviewers assess candidates in a way that is fair, reliable, and valid. His premises included:
Self-Interviewers have a responsibility to understand who they are, and what their professional and personal strengths and weaknesses are in order to become better interviewers.
Environment-Interviewers need to understand how environmental dynamics affect the interview process and shape the environment to create the most effective setting.
Leadoff- Setting an appropriate and positive tone early on in the interview and specific strategies can help accomplish that.
Energize-Interviewers can energize the interview process by using questions that are open-ended and invite disclosure. Varying questions to include critical incident, comparison/contrast, and hypothetical elements is another energizing technique.
Close-The applicant should have an opportunity to bring up any questions they might have during the close of the interview, which should conclude on a powerful and upbeat note. Interviewers should also review their notes to ensure that they have adequately covered all of their assessment targets.
Tell Someone-Since interviewers often work in team environments and elicit information that can be used by others in the decision-making process, great care must be taken to describe the information in quantitative ratings and qualitative comments.