Diagnostic Challenges: The Pressure is On
Think of the most difficult or uncomfortable aspect of your job. Now think of the first time you faced it without anybody there to help, and how overwhelmed you felt. Feeling like Homer Simpson during a reactor meltdown, you were probably nervous that you couldn’t do it, scared of what would happen if you did it wrong, and worried that your training wasn’t enough.
If practice makes perfect, then imagine if we were all allowed multiple practice runs at a tough task before having to face the challenge for real. Just to make sure you are learning from the experience, add in a professional who is inconspicuously watching your performance to explain anything you could have improved upon when it’s over.
The first round of diagnostic challenges recently wrapped up for the vet students of WSU, and it is an education technique that makes incredible sense. During these diagnostic challenges (DC’s), the students become doctors for a week. They dress the part, and are put into groups where they are given a case to diagnose. But, this case isn’t just a bunch of symptoms and test results on a piece of paper.
The school actually hires actors to serve as clients and bring in a stuffed “pet” patient. These actors know the medical history of their animal, and can describe symptoms for a condition that the professor secretly chooses. The student-doctors perform a patient intake where they ask about diet, lifestyle, and other pertinent information while a facilitator watches through a one-way mirror. The students even perform a physical exam of the animal while the facilitator calls out what they would see on the animal for each test they act out. Watch a video of a diagnostic challenge here.
The students then decide on some possible causes for the symptoms and recommend a treatment plan to the client. Just like in their future clinics, they also have to give a price quote and make sure the client is comfortable with all of the tests they deem necessary.
Later in the week the students receive the results of any lab tests they ordered, and they meet with their client to tell their diagnosis.
Just like the difficult situations these future vets will surely encounter in their real clinics, when given the results some clients may become upset, and some will even cry. The vet students’ people skills are being watched as closely as their ability to diagnose the right ailment.
Following the challenge, the group gets feedback from the client and the facilitator on every aspect of their performance. If they ordered an unnecessary test or didn’t ask the client an important question, they learn what their mistake would have cost someone in a real-life scenario.
The importance of this training lies in the details. It was pointed out to one group that when their client offhandedly mentioned during the exam that their house had been broken into, none of the doctors in the group expressed sympathy or asked about it. While this was likely just because of nerves and the group being so focused on the details that would help them to diagnose the case, it illustrates the importance the school places on the personal aspects of the job.
Like any profession, relationships are the key to success. This training is just another example of the way WSU instills this value, and puts the student to the test under pressure situations to make sure they remember it.
Unfortunately, other schools simply don’t have this type of program. While most vet schools often encourage volunteer work and offer class discussions of real cases, they don’t simulate the real thing quite like WSU does.
As the younger generations become increasingly more interactive learners, this type of training could really improve the customer service and performance of any industry.