2021 journal article
Evaluation of Veterinary Students’ Communication Skills with a Service Dog Handler in a Simulated Client Scenario
Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 48(5), 538–548.
Effective communication skills serve as a key component of excellent veterinary care and provide a foundation for building trusting relationships with clients. While many veterinary clients value their pets for companionship, the focus of other relationships may be based on a partnership between the human and animal, as is the case with the handlers of service dogs. As the use of service dogs in the US continues to grow, it is important that veterinary professionals are educated on how best to meet the unique needs of service dogs and their handlers. This article evaluates the interactions of veterinary students with a service dog handler in a simulated client scenario. Ten videotaped interactions were coded to assess third-year students’ communication skills (nonverbal communication, open-ended questions, reflective listening, and empathy), and their ability to discuss the diagnostic and therapeutic options for a dog with suspected intervertebral disk disease. Results showed that the majority of students demonstrated competence in the use of nonverbal communication skills and in discussing the biomedical aspects of the disease. Students require development in the use of open-ended questions, reflective listening statements, and expression of empathy, as well as building client rapport and discussing the psychosocial aspect of the disease on the client and patient. These findings suggest that veterinary students may benefit from targeted instruction on “best practices” in caring for service dogs and their handlers, including greater attention to the psychosocial aspects of a disease, and from additional communication practice using standardized clients with service dogs.