Personal characteristics other than academic ability have long been recognized as requirements for economic and career success in veterinary medicine in North America. While these characteristics or attributes have been increasingly emphasized within the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) curriculum (i.e. teaching communication skills or providing ethical dilemmas for students to work through), they require years of development . Presuming that a student will acquire these characteristics while also dealing with the DVM program course work is probably incorrect. Given the limitations of adding to an already overwhelming curriculum, a more realistic goal is to enhance personal characteristics already in place. Selection of students into the DVM program should be based on their academic excellence and possession of the attributes deemed most necessary for success in the DVM program and in the veterinary profession.
Before discussing how best to assess personal characteristics at the time of admission, it is important to identify which personal characteristics various stakeholders believe are important to assess at the time of admission. The Pew Report, released in 1988, evaluated the veterinary profession and discussed changes essential to ensure that it has a viable future. The necessary characteristics for veterinarians proposed in the Pew report include: communication skills; general understanding of the world; sensitivities to cultures and people; scientific and professional behavior; desire for sustained scholarship; commitment to the betterment of humanity; personal management skills; compassion for animals and people; and personal integrity and ethics . More recent studies have also identified the importance of personal characteristics for veterinarians. The KPMG LLP report stated that “While there is ample evidence that the scientific and clinical skills of the profession remain very high, there is also evidence that veterinarians lack some of the skills and aptitudes that result in economic success. Additionally, there is evidence that veterinarians’ self-perception of their abilities and their perception of what they can contribute to society potentially limit the professional and economic growth of the veterinary medical profession” (pg. 162) . A study conducted by Ilgen et al. suggests that current admissions procedures in North American veterinary colleges may be screening out applicants with desirable attributes related to non-technical competencies .
The idea that personal attributes are necessary for the economic and career success of veterinarians has been recognized within the veterinary profession in North America. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, in its National Action Plan developed from the Task Force Report on the Future of the Veterinary Profession, made the following recommendation concerning the selection of students by the veterinary colleges in Canada: “To ensure that individuals with good interpersonal skills and broad interests, not only individuals with exceedingly high academic qualifications, gain entry into veterinary medicine, the Task Force recommends that veterinary colleges: adopt a basic academic standard for admission, beyond which candidates are assessed on a broad range of aptitudes as proposed in the PEW report; and recognize aptitude testing and personality profiling as pivotal in the selection process” (pg.408) . Lewis and Klausner stated that the core competency components that must be taken into account when selecting people who will be successful in their careers include: technical [cognitive] competencies that comprise the knowledge, skills, and experiences that lead to success in a particular job that can be gained in a short period; and non-technical [non-cognitive] competencies that consist of personality traits, abilities and core interests, values, and motivations which are developed over years and are less amenable to training and planned change .
This implies that academic ability and aptitude for veterinary medicine are necessary but not sufficient for success in the profession. In response to these findings, a consortium of veterinary colleges was created to help identify problems in the profession that may be leading to decreasing career success and satisfaction. Personnel Decisions International (PDI) was hired by the consortium to identify the non-technical competencies related to success in the veterinary profession and to determine how these competencies varied in importance for success in various veterinary career paths . While some of the competencies were found to be specific to certain career paths, overall, they were found to be consistent across a range of veterinary career settings. This study was the first to systematically assess characteristics other than academic ability within the veterinary profession. Lists of characteristics defined as necessary for success as a veterinarian have been previously generated in the literature; however, the non-cognitive competencies developed by Lewis and Klausner were defined in behavioural terms, which they recommended should be assessed during admissions and veterinary school . In medicine, Albanese et al. identified 87 personal characteristics important for medicine, however, not all of these could be translated into qualities that can be measured at the time of admission . Hecker et al. reviewed attributes that veterinary schools reported as being measured at the time of admission. Thirty-seven attributes were reported with each school reporting up to 6 attributes being assessed at the time of admission .
The Veterinary Medical College Application Services (VMCAS) website includes “college descriptor pages” that list the selection process for each of the veterinary schools that are members of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) .
In reviewing the 28 schools in the USA and 5 in Canada, all veterinary colleges list grade point average (GPA) requirements. All but 3 require a supplemental/standardized test be it the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Non-academic attributes are assessed in various ways and may include references, veterinary and/or animal experience, extracurricular activities, volunteer and work experiences, personal statements/essays and interviews. Five of the colleges did not require an interview as part of their admissions process. Of the colleges that reported the interview style used, the University of Calgary (UCVM), the University of California – Davis, Virginia Maryland, and the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) use the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) . The MMI is a series of timed interview stations, typically 8 – 10, and each station is 10 minutes in length. The candidate is presented with a scenario or task (they have 2 minutes to read the scenario), they are then asked to discuss the scenario with the interviewer or perform the respective task. The interviewer then rates candidate performance on certain attributes, i.e. communication skills. The weighting formula used to determine an applicant’s ranking differed for each college.
Veterinary schools, however, rarely report how the lists of personal characteristics applicants are required to possess are determined. At a minimum, characteristics are selected by schools’ admissions committees that are reported to be a reflection of the goals and objectives of the respective school. Recently there have been reports of empirical methods used for the selection of admissions criteria. Reiter and Eva proposed the use of the paired comparison method to create a rank order list of characteristics considered important for medical students to possess . Using this method, 292 community members, faculty members and medical students were surveyed and asked to compare seven characteristics. They reported that subgroups rank ordered the attributes in a consistent order with “ethical” being the most important characteristic of the seven. Lambe and Bristow used a Delphi method to determine whether they could identify common attributes considered important for the medical profession . Ten participants were asked to consider 20 attributes and rate them on a 1 to 5 scale (not at all important to always important) and to rank order the 20. The top three attributes identified were, “recognition that patient care is the primary concern of the doctor”, “probity (being honest, trustworthy and acting with integrity)”, and “good communication and listening skills.” It is beyond the scope of this paper to review selection methods used for admissions to assess academic ability and personal characteristics. If interested please refer to Prideuax et. al.s recent consensus document regarding selection measures used at admissions .
While identification and rank ordering of attributes is important, what needs to be explored is whether certain attributes are considered as being more important among different demographic groups. For example do males perceive communication skills as more important than females? Is there a difference amongst age categories? Is there a difference between practitioner types? Is there a difference amongst education level? If there are differences, these could have an impact on admissions decisions and might have to be taken into account during the admissions process. Therefore, the purpose of this study was twofold. First, we wanted to systematically determine which personal characteristics members of the veterinary profession in Ontario deemed most important for making admission decisions to the Ontario Veterinary College. Second, we wanted to explore whether there were between group differences in how members of the profession scored attributes.