ADV-Lesson 1- Communication Skills for the Veterinary Team


Veterinary technology students in their first semester of school, when asked why they want to become a vet tech, will often respond that they like animals more than people. What is sometimes overlooked is that there is a person at the end of every leash. Not every veterinary professional is a “people person”, so it’s crucial to train staff how to understand the psychological and physical responses that people have in a high-stress emergency situation.

Here are some suggestions to use when training staff:

  • Practice emergency scenarios. Develop a case and present it to your team members during your next staff meeting. Have them role-play what they would do or open a discussion amongst the team.
  • Review how things went after an emergency comes in. What could you have done differently? Even if a particular staff member was not involved in the case, include them in the discussions so they learn about how it was handled.

We all know that some clients can be challenging at times, but remember, they are seeking your help because they care about their pets. Everyone working together will give the pet its best fighting chance.

Team Dynamics

The dynamics of a team is crucial to the success of any group; a football team must practice, act as a team, share the same ideals, etc. Much like a sports team, a veterinary staff team must be prepared through constant practice and maintaining the team’s goals.

The importance of preparation could not be truer than in emergency and critical care. Some of the most basic steps to being prepared for an emergency are:

  • Stock a mobile crash cart with items that will facilitate the team’s quick response to the patient’s condition
  • Train team to recognize rapidly declining patients and patients who have arrested (staff should know the clinical signs of shock, cardiac arrest, etc.)
  • Have protocols in place to call a code or an emergency in the hospital (some hospitals have the CRASH code, in which anyone observing an emergency yell “CRASH!”)
  • Routine training on managing emergencies

The guidelines also state that after the simulation or training exercise all team members should be asked to evaluate their performance and that of the team to determine shortcomings and to recognize ways to improve. The more routine the training the more adapted the staff becomes to a quick and aggressive response, which in turn may increase the chances of survival in a real-life emergency.

Team training is essential but the dynamics, the way that the team of many performs as one being, is also a big factor in the success of the team’s efforts. We often hear that the success of a group often relies on the skills of the leader. In human and veterinary medicine there has been no evidence ever cited that states the presence of a physician influences the success rates of CPR; it is sensible to agree that anyone with basic leadership skills and efficient training and background, can lead a team to success.

Some ways to improve team dynamics is to have a leader who:

  • Delegates tasks to other members of the team
  • Applies protocols and procedures
  • Sporadically summarizes the code/ procedure
  • Solicits feedback from the participating team

Team performance and success can also be greatly enhanced using closed loop communication. Closed loop communication is simply repeating an order you were given to ensure accuracy. Think of the TV surgeon requesting a scalpel and the circulating nurse replies while handing the instrument, “scalpel”. The use of closed loop communication is an important part of any emergency or CPR protocol. By using this type of communication, a team can reduce many medical errors that could potentially take place in a fast-paced emergency situation. The ability for a team to recognize and respond appropriately to a patient in need of CPR, for the team to take quick and calculated action based on frequent training sessions, will ensure greater positive outcomes in cases of emergencies.

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