“Pets don’t live as long as people do.”
With this simple truth, Dr. Jane Shaw introduced me to the realities of end-of-life conversations in Veterinary Medicine.
She added, “For us, end of life communication and practice is core to being a vet.”
I was lucky enough to interview Dr. Shaw recently for our podcast series. (Dr. Shaw’s work is also featured in one of our most popular episodes about the conversations around the death of my cat Katie.)
Dr. Shaw leads the Veterinary Communication program at Colorado State University. Here is a recent publication from Dr. Shaw on client-centered communication. If this is an important issue for you, Colorado State’s Veterinary Communication program is hiring.
I want to share this interview with you. Dr. Shaw tells the story of her dog Charlie, and we talk about end-of-life conversations. You’ll hear about how she prepares her students for these conversations at Colorado State.
No matter what difficult conversations you find yourself facing, what she shares may be helpful to you.
Here is the audio of the interview, along with the transcript below.
Happy anniversary! This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners and I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. We’re 2 years old! And we’re celebrating with a bonus episode. Today you’ll hear from Dr. Jane Shaw. Dr. Shaw leads the veterinarian communication program at Colorado State University, and she talks about the communication challenge veterinarians face on a constant basis: end of life conversations. What she has to say may be helpful to you, no matter what difficult conversations you find yourself facing.
Now this is the time where I usually tell you about one of our great, super low cost audiobook bundles. And please do check them out at HealthCommunicationPartners.com. But today, I want to tell you that coming soon is a super exciting announcement. It’s a whole new level in our ability to collaborate with you to help you reach your communication goals. It’s been years in the making and I couldn’t be more proud to offer this to you. So, hit us up at HealthCommunicationPartners.com to get the newsletter, and keep your ears peeled in our upcoming podcast episodes.
I’m here via Skype with Dr. Jane Shaw. Dr. Shaw is full professor and director of Veterinary communication for professional Excellence at Colorado State University’s College of veterinary medicine and biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins, Colorado. Welcome to the show, Jane!
Thank you for having me.
Thanks for being here! Now you and I know each other professionally. I was in the audience at the Academy of Communication in Healthcare conference when you received the inaugural Academy for Healthcare Communication Teaching Excellence award. Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself and what you do?
So, I am one of a handful of experts in Veterinary communication. my background is actually in epidemiology, and my PhD thesis focus on Veterinary client patient interactions. And I lead the veterinary communication curriculum at Colorado State University veterinary school which offers a 52-hour curriculum for veterinary students.
So as an expert in Veterinary communication, can you talk to us about one problem that you face as a provider, as an educator, in Veterinary communication?
Yeah. I think one of the aspects that’s very unique to Veterinary communication is quality of life and end-of-life conversations. And although it’s a humane decision and one that’s intended to end suffering, there’s also a lot of responsibility and burden associated with it. And we know that 50% of clients feel guilt and severe grief as result of making that decision.
Wow, so how do you approach this very special, very intense, communication situation in your program?
One of the things that we know modifies that severe grief is the communication that the client has had with the Veterinary professional. And so we work to equip our students with the appropriate skills to be able to conduct that conversation in a compassionate and sensitive manner.
How do you do that? is there something that you feel is really core to your practice?
So in all of our curriculum activities, my emphasis is really on experiential learning and practice. But one of the unique things that we’ve done is to create that practice setting in the classroom is we brought in role-playing by clinicians.
Yes. So other veterinarians, and talking about either their own dogs, or talking about clients that were especially meaningful to them. For example, I–on Mondays, every Monday for the past five weeks, I’ve been telling the story of my own dog, Charlie.
As, as part of your class?
As part of my class. As, as part of the class, as treating an opportunity or a case scenario for students to–in this case, in this course, we’re working on initiation, initiating the interview; eliciting the clients full agenda; and getting a full history. Understanding the broad story of the whole history. And so I utilized my own dog story to provide opportunities for students to practice the skills to get those components.
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And it sounds like it’s not just your dog’s history that they’re getting from these questions.
Yes. So that history includes, importantly, my client perspective. My relationship with my animal, my relationship with Charlie.
So this is going back kind of to where you started, with the ethical burden that’s on the, on the client, that the veterinarian’s communication can help with.
Yes. So in this case, in my own real story with Charlie, is–I, currently, right now, I’m struggling with his quality of life. He has a chronic elbow weakness that is very painful. And so they’re asking lots of courageous–and, in particular, open ended–questions, to invite the storytelling. So the history is about Charlie the patient, the traditional history. But equally importantly is about our relationship, our interactions, what he means to me, and what, what is important to me about what’s happening with him right now.
So the ethical component of this is coming across to me very strongly. That by asking a lot of questions of of you as the patient, your students are inviting you to do some work and some thinking yourself.
I love what you said because it’s about empowering me to find the answers in myself. So by inviting me to tell my story, to hear what’s important to me–my own ears hearing me say these things, in some ways is healing itself. And helping me find the path forward.
So what do you hear back from your students after they go through this? Because it sounds like these are these are difficult conversations to have, but that that they are having them. You are teaching students to do this and they are doing it. So how do they feel after?
I would say students come into the course with what I would say, hesitation, and fear of asking. And what they call probing. “It’s not my business to probe.” Or even going as far as to say “I’m not a counselor.” And my messages is then: we’re not teaching you to be a counselor, but we’re teaching you to understand the greater context in which this client and animal lives. And in understanding their true priorities, their true concerns, their true expectations, their goals, their desires, we can make a plan. And work with that client to make a tailored plan that works for them. That in the end, results in our students feeling more confident and competent in having those conversations. But equally so, our clients being in a place where they’re less likely to have a complicated grief process. That they’re more likely to feel comfortable and confident with their decision. That so that they can move forward in a healthful grieving process.
Thank you for that. Thank you for that. I can see why you got that teaching award! I mean this is a remarkable program to design, and to enact over and over again. And you have something exciting to tell us, right?
I do! We’re actually hiring a faculty member in veterinary communication here at Colorado State.
Yes we are.
So listeners, if this sounds like something you want to be a part of, Jane can you tell us a little bit about this position?
So it won’t surprise you that we’re looking for someone with strong communication and facilitation skills. With experience either an academic setting teaching students, or perhaps in a healthcare setting coaching Clinicians with a strong research background. this is an academic position.
So does the person have to be a veterinarian?
Not necessarily. The person can come with an expertise in communication that then can be transferred to the context of veterinary medicine.
Super. Is there a site people can go to to see the posting?
Sure at jobs.Colostate.edu. Veterinary communication in the search engine to find the position. Because all the jobs at the University will be listed on that site.
Gotcha. Is it okay if I share the posting information on the show notes?
That would be great.
Great. Thank you again Dr. Jane Shaw from Colorado State University for talking with us about the special challenges of end-of-life conversations as experienced by veterinarians. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners.