Let’s be Frank: Workshops focus on veterinary communication skills

Woman and man sitting on sofa talking to a woman sitting in a chair
Practicing veterinarians learn communications skills at a Frank workshop at Colorado State University. (CSU photo)

By Dr. Jane R. Shaw

Effective communication with clients and colleagues is a critical skill for success of veterinary practices. The growth of the human-animal bond, client demand for high quality and compassionate care, and practice requirement for high-performing teams drives the need for enhancing client and team communication. The new Frank Communication Workshop Series provides the opportunity for veterinary team members to enhance their communication toolbox and to learn how to mentor others.

The Frank Communication Workshop Series is made up of three highly experiential continuing education events: Frank 1.0, Frank 2.0, and Communication Coaching Skills. All emphasize the importance of communication as a significant clinical skill for veterinary teams. Each workshop builds and reinforces the skills learned in the previous workshop. The learning is customized to foster each individual’s clinical communication skills.

The highlight of all the workshops is the communication laboratory, where participants interview actor clients, receive individualized coaching and feedback from their peers and simulated client, and reflect on a video-recording of their performance in a small group setting. Participants find the opportunity to practice their skills in a real-life clinical scenario with the support and feedback of their peers the most rewarding aspect of the workshops. Recent participants describe the environment as “non-threatening,” “supportive,” and “very interactive and open,” all of which promote hands-on learning in a non-judgmental setting.

Frank 1.0 focuses on communication skills for solid history-taking. Frank 2.0 focuses on explaining and planning, resulting in the development of a toolbox of 20 essential communication skills. The case scenarios present difficult communication topics, such as dealing with emotions, team conflict management, delivering bad news, financial conversations, disclosing medical errors and end-of-life conversations. Participants take these newly honed communication skills back to their practices and find that applying tools such as asking open-ended questions and practicing empathy make a drastic difference in their client interactions and relationships.

The Communication Coaching Skills Workshop teaches how to mentor others in developing their own communication skills. The end goal at the completion of the Frank Workshop Series is that an individual could serve as an in-house communication coach to teach their colleagues in the veterinary practice.

Jane Shaw, DVM, PhD, is associate professor of veterinary communication at Colorado State University. She received her veterinary degree from Michigan State University in 1994 and her Ph.D. in epidemiology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada in 2004.