Ontario Veterinary College Never At Loss For Words


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All photos courtesy of Ontario Veterinary College

At a Glance

Location: Guelph, Ontario

Enrollment: 450 DVM students and 200 graduate students

Degrees: DVM, MPH, Ph.D., MSc, DVSc

Tuition: $4,000/semester (Canadian residents), $27,000/semester (non-residents)

Website: http://www. OVC.uoguelph.ca


Graduates of Ontario Veterinary College leave not only with the ability to communicate well with clients and colleagues, but also with an appreciation of literature.

What other school hands out the veterinary novels “Water for Elephants” or “The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes”?

First-year students are given a novel during orientation and later meet in small groups to discuss it. OVC’s dean, Elizabeth Stone, DVM, MS, MPP, says the gesture doesn’t appeal to everyone, “But to many, it helps them realize that veterinary medicine is situated in a broader social context.”

Dr. Stone says veterinarians and students can use literature such as books, poetry and essays to help understand the field, “whether it’s dealing with difficult clients or euthanasia or the joy of being a veterinarian.”

Communicating with clients is a major part of the curriculum at Canada’s largest veterinary school, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2012. Many of the skills are learned at the new Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre, designed by the noted architectural firm FWAJDB.

The teaching hospital prepares students to diagnose and treat animals, of course, and provides hands-on training in areas such as nutrition, public health, animal welfare, behavior and rehabilitation.

“What we want is for the students, when they do an exam or have a client interview, to include all those aspects,” Stone says. “For example, they will always ask about a dog or cat’s current nutrition and assess whether changes need to be made. It’s a vital part of the exam.”

Practice management skills are learned as well.

“We will share the financial data with students as much as possible so they understand why they have to charge what they do,” Stone says.

"When they are taking the client up to the discharge desk, we want them to explain the bill to the client. Say I ask the student, ‘Why did the wellness exam cost $120?’ [The answer may be] ‘Well, the wellness exam includes the nutrition counseling, it includes the vaccinations, it includes a number of other things.

“The student understands what the vaccine costs us and how much you have to increase the cost to pay for all your other expenses. The bottom line is that veterinary medicine is a service industry.”

Communication is taught in the classroom, too, beginning in the first year with simulated clients.

“The student is in a room with an actor and has to find out certain information and work on particular skill areas--maybe they have trouble making eye contact or keeping the client on track,” Stone says. “Behind the one-way mirror are classmates watching the interaction. Afterward they all debrief.”

By all accounts, the training is a success.

“We’ve had practitioners who hired our students who commented on how well they can interact with clients and with difficult clients,” Stone says.

OVC, part of the University of Guelph, enrolls up to 15 international students a year, many from the U.S. The other seats in the annual class of 110 to 115 students are reserved for Canadian residents.

Students arriving on campus will find newly completed buildings such as the Hill’s teaching hospital and facilities in various stages:

• The renovated Small Animal Clinic reopened this past summer.
• The large-animal clinical skills building and the Pathobiology-Animal Health Laboratory are scheduled to open in late 2010.
• The first phase of the Animal Cancer Centre is scheduled to begin this fall. 
•  Fundraising is under way for the planned Equine Sports Medicine and Reproduction Centre.

As many U.S. veterinary schools struggle with tighter budgets, OVC keeps growing.

“Our provincial funding has remained fairly static,” Stone says. “We have not had the kind of cutbacks that [U.S. schools] have experienced.”

What is similar to U.S. veterinary schools is the admissions process.

“Ultimately, of course, we want students who will be successful veterinarians,” Stone says. “We want students who have knowledge of what the possibilities are for being a veterinarian and have worked with a veterinarian.

“We do emphasize the academic side,” she says. “There is a grade-point average they have to meet and specific courses that they have to take.”

And interviews to conduct.

“This year our associate dean of students, Peter Conlon, spearheaded a revamping of the way we interview students,” Stone says. “Rather than the applicants having an interview with one, two or three people at the same time, they go from station to station and are presented with scenarios and possible cases and asked how they would respond.”

For the successful applicant, it’s a sign they have some of the communications skills that OVC values.

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