Are veterinarians socially inept? Not so much when you compare us to our human medical counterparts, it would seem. And yet, there’s always room for improvement…

According to Monday’s front page article in The New York Times:

Doctors save lives, but they can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls who bully nurses and do not listen to patients. Medical schools have traditionally done little to screen out such flawed applicants or to train them to behave better, but that is changing.

The times they are a’ changing. Increasingly, the ivory tower is reaching beyond the pithy psychobabble to help make real-life human capabilities actually have some bearing on the medical school acceptance process.

Imagine that!

Back in the day, people became doctors because they were "people persons." They were compassionate, caring people whose interest in science segued with their up-close and personal interest in humanity. That was the idea, anyhow.

Fast-forward to today’s medical institution and you’ve got mommy-pleasers and social-climbers lumped in with the real thing. Sure, that’s always been the case to some extent, harking back to Medieval times, even. But isn’t it time we started weeding the interlopers out?

Enter the MMI, the "multiple mini interview," which is a med-student selection system embraced by Stanford University Medical School and a growing legion of upstart academic hangers-on who are happy to clutch onto a better way of selecting docs for the future.

Based on the concept of intelligent, analytical communicability, the point is that candidates for a medical education would have to vie for their seats based not only on their demonstrable book smarts, but on their people skills, too.

So a series of mini-interviews was developed to ID the medical profession’s best candidates based on their social acumen, a never-done-that-before approach that has been welcomed by every medical body willing to opine on the subject. Here’s what the NYT piece exposed:

At Virginia Tech Carilion, the nation’s newest medical school, administrators decided against relying solely on grades, test scores and hour long interviews to determine who got in. Instead, the school invited candidates to the admissions equivalent of speed-dating: nine brief interviews that forced candidates to show they had the social skills to navigate a health care system in which good communication has become critical.

The system grew out of research that found that interviewers rarely change their scores after the first five minutes, that using multiple interviewers removes random bias and that situational interviews rather than personal ones are more likely to reveal character flaws, said Dr. Harold Reiter, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who developed the system.

In fact, candidate scores on multiple mini interviews have proved highly predictive of scores on medical licensing exams three to five years later that test doctors’ decision-making, patient interactions and cultural competency, Dr. Reiter said.

A pleasant bedside manner and an attentive ear have always been desirable traits in doctors, of course, but two trends have led school administrators to make the hunt for these qualities a priority. The first is a growing catalog of studies that pin the blame for an appalling share of preventable deaths on poor communication among doctors, patients and nurses that often results because some doctors, while technically competent, are socially inept.

Wow. Makes so much sense. And as I always say, veterinary medicine is a people profession first and foremost. Much as we like to make it all about the animals, it’s their stewards  — all of us — that ultimately hold all the cards.

So it is that I can’t help but think that veterinary medicine is on the wrong path if it thinks it can attract students solely on the basis of their commitment to our animals. We’ll have to do a lot better than that — even if it comes to "speed-dating" — if we’re to bring all our human skills to bear on making animal lives better.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: "Hello, I'm here for the interview." by Andy on Flickr

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