JULY 2018 www.irishfarmersmonthly.com Animal Health Focus Communication in the veterinary practice Good communication is key for animal health issues across the food chain. Frank O Sullivan MVB MSc (applied food science) MRCVS; and Cillian O Sullivan BA MSc organisational psychology graduate, discuss communication skills and the vets changing role in society. The veterinary profession is evolving with time and this is best-illustrated by the changing manner of communication. Good communication skills are of value in all aspects of veterinary medicine. The benefits from enhanced communication skills lead to more effective consultations for clients, veterinarians and patients. The folllowing concepts discussed provide an understanding of the background psychology in good communication science, especially when considering how best to change people’s behaviour. Historically, the veterinary surgeon may have adopted a top-down method of communication emphasising the vet’s hierarchy in the transfer of information, the “do what I tell you” approach. The vet was primarily a source of sound-technical information. The ability to regurgitate veterinary knowledge is no longer enough to be credible in modern-day veterinary practice. The vet of the future is evolving, not only with competence in clinical skills, but also the vet needs to be a capable person with commercial and socially responsible ambitions and values. They need to have excellent communication skills. Therefore, the key contemporary communication dynamic revolves around the question, “what can we do together to find the best solution for your animal (or herd)?”. Today’s clients (both pets and farmed animals) wish to be closely involved in shared decision making. Relationships are now characterised by collaboration and partnership. These owners already have a significant knowledge, perhaps with multiple advisers to the farm. In addition, a pet owner may have researched the internet both before and after veterinary consultation. The vet therefore, has become an information clarifier where all information including the history is gathered and used to prepare a management or treatment plan for the owner and their animal(s). Communication for the veterinary undergraduate and new graduate Vertical integration of communication skills in the veterinary undergraduate programme allows for repeated exposure and practice by the students and with scaffolding, building of their skills as they encounter more complex situations. The deliberate integration into many (clinical and non-clinical) teaching units means that communication skills is considered integral to practising all aspects of veterinary medicine – not just a ‘soft skill’ to be taught as an adjunct to ‘real medicine’. An additional benefit is that it becomes easier to work in teams both as an undergraduate and in subsequent work environments. In Irish and European farms, agri-advisers and veterinary Farm vet of the future 29