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Canadian Veterinary Students Join International Working Professionals at the 2019 WSAVA/CVMA Convention for the Emerging Leaders Program

October 4, 2019

Emerging Leaders Program 2019From July 16–19, the 44th World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) World Congress and concurrent 71st Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) Convention took place in Toronto, Ontario.

One of the highlights for students attending the conference was the Emerging Leaders Program; this year’s focus was how veterinarians can make their practices both “productive and fun.” The workshop lasted two days and comprised lectures and interactive exercises.

Experienced equine surgeon Dr. Richard DeBowes facilitated the program. He serves as associate dean for Veterinary Development and External Relations and works as a professor at Washington State University. He works with veterinary students and working professionals to help increase both their quality of life and the efficiency of their practice. He stresses the importance of professionalism, individuality and most importantly joy.

The workshop started with a mindful exercise: participants were asked to reflect on the clinics at which they were or have been employed. They were then asked to identify personal core values and examine how these lined up with workplace cultures and practices.

Participants went on to describe leadership and what it looks like to them, narrowing in on the relationship between what we think, what we feel, and what we do. This was accompanied by icebreaker activities in which participants had to step out of their comfort zones to accomplish simple tasks, utilizing personal and team leadership abilities.

The first day’s session ended with closing remarks acknowledging the two aspects of the veterinary profession, namely that a veterinary practice is a business in addition to a service. Discussion ensued Emerging Leaders Program 2019on how to best manage these two priorities.

Dr. DeBowes encouraged participants to imagine what an ideal practice experience would be like for the client; he asked what clinics would look and feel like if they were run by Disney, repeatedly stressing the importance of honoring the clients and their time, and treating them as guests in veterinary establishments.

The second day focused on how to apply what had been learned in the previous session through team-building exercises. Participants spoke up and stepped up to leadership roles, while simultaneously relying on one another to accomplish target goals. This reflected the main focus of the day: strong leaders bring about change and achieve the desired goals.

Dr. DeBowes also spoke about group cultures and how to improve group morale, teamwork and overall harmony. He also addressed veterinary paradigm shifts including the increasing number of female veterinary professionals, new approaches to pain management, and developments pertaining to prudent antibiotic usage. Subsequently, participants were encouraged to be active leaders in both their practices and personal lives to prepare for impending paradigm shifts that will influence the future of the profession.

Dr. DeBowes concluded by demonstrating how to conduct a good recruitment interview, as well as what traits to look for when hiring a new employee: hunger, humility, and emotional intelligence. He also encouraged students to start with “why” we are in this profession, and that “what” we do in it will follow.

Following Dr. DeBowes’ presentation on the 2nd day, the program sponsor, Virox Animal Health, brought in two guest speakers for a question and answer session. Founder Dr. Michelle Lem and clinic head and board member Dr. Susan Kilborn from Community Veterinary Outreach shared tips on caring for animals whose owners are homeless; they also expanded on their other areas of expertise, including mental health and wellness inside and outside of the practice; staff and client relationships; compassion; and fatigue and burnout. Their conversational approach to difficult topics created a welcoming atmosphere and participants who had been strangers a day before became both open and vulnerable with one another as they shared their stories and struggles. This one-hour session fostered a sense of unity within the group and participants left the program bolstered by a sense of the wonderful community that the veterinary profession creates for and with one another.

Over the course of the Emerging Leaders Program, Dr. DeBowes facilitated individual and group development of interpersonal and leadership skills with a constant focus on morality and the need for a daily source of joy. He will be presenting a similar Student Leadership Workshop at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the coming school year and has also presented at the Ontario Veterinary College as well as the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in past years. I would encourage students and working professionals to attend both of these programs to allow their leadership skills, goal setting and sense of greater purpose in the veterinary profession to flourish in this challenging, encouraging and supportive setting. 

Emerging Leaders Program 2019