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Who’s Hands Heal?

Posted: January 10, 2011, 1:25 p.m., EDT

When I attended the International Conference on Communication in Veterinary Medicine (ICCVM), I was delighted to meet Suzanne Kurtz, one of the authors of “Skills for Communicating with Patients.” Although the book was written with an aim toward human medicine, the communication skills are certainly applicable to veterinary medicine (we’re just talking to the family rather than the patient).

At ICCVM, I attended a workshop Suzanne co-presented on how to evaluate veterinary students on the communication skills necessary for success. There is basically an outline of the patient appointment process, and how to achieve communication success during each step.

This outline of what to teach and what needs to be learned regarding communication takes the form of the Calgary-Cambridge Guides. According to the “Skills” book, the Guides provide a concise and accessible summary of the communication skills curriculum. During the workshop, we explored how this curriculum should be taught and evaluated in the realm of veterinary school.

Suzanne began the workshop by asking us what we were hoping to learn. Having used this book as a resource to present communication skills to veterinary technicians, I raised my hand to contribute that I wanted to learn how to involve the support staff in this curriculum since many of the appointment steps are indeed handled by the front office or technicians rather than the veterinarians. So that got me to thinking…

When we speak out in support of technician utilization, the message is that the support staff should be able to use all their skills and knowledge to allow the veterinarian to spend his or her time on the three things no one else can do: surgery, diagnosis, and prescription of medications. That leaves the patients mainly in the hands of the support staff, unless they are anesthetized…and perhaps that reality alone could serve to disconnect a veterinarian from the reason they went into veterinary medicine to begin with, to have healing hands to assist animals.

We often talk about the “old school” and indeed older veterinarians who want to do everything themselves. Well, that’s probably the way they envisioned it when they entered the profession, and they do not now want to be hands off just because the support team has become more qualified. Hmmm, it’s a different way of thinking of things, and I believe that looking through different colored lenses is a good thing for all of us, and a view to help find new solutions to old problems.

There’s no doubt we’ve been talking about technician utilization for a long time, but maybe it’s time to talk about a true team approach. I know, the term team is overused, but it fits. Is there a way for technicians to use their skills and knowledge, while allowing the veterinarian to still feel a part of the helping hands? I think there must be. Technicians and veterinarians alike need to realize that the hands-on care of patients is a satisfier for most, and everyone in this profession should have the opportunity to lay their hands on those satisfying animals that we heal!

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