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WSU examines student psychology
Pullman, Wash. — Non-technical competencies contributing to career success are being investigated as a new model for training veterinary students.
PULLMAN, WASH. — Non-technical competencies contributing to career success are being investigated as a new model for training veterinary students.
Students were asked a series of stress-related questions highlighting non-technical competencies, an aspect lacking in veterinary education considered most vital. Results were published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.
"Students gain admission to veterinary programs on the basis of truly remarkable records of achievement," says Dr. Gilbert Burns, associate dean for academic student affairs at Washington State University's (WSU) veterinary college. "We conducted a study to determine whether students admitted to the DVM program at WSU perform in ways that are characteristic of other elite, high-achieving populations."
According to the study, veterinary educators might assume students acquire non-technical competencies while pursuing clinical tasks. Researchers involved in the study contest the theory based on psychological evidence proving the inaccuracy.
"Several key pedagogical points can be gleaned from the results of this study," Burns says. "The most remarkable finding was the intense fear of failure that existed among the respondents. The study supports a very real and all too common emotional response to new challenges that must be recognized by educators, and those who hire new graduates, before dysfunctional coping strategies ensue.
"Fear of failure might manifest in a number of ways, including a reticence to try new things, a reluctance to step outside one's comfort zone, an aura of indifference/apathy, or an apparent disengagement from performance-rich situations."
This evidence supports calls for more psychologically supportive educators and provides insight to professors, which in turn, alters the classroom atmosphere.
Participants in the 2002 study include 61 students in an incoming WSU class.
Participants completed psychometric measures comparing veterinary students to other populations rating stresses on a Likert scale.
Anxious, yet confident
Conclusions of the study reveal:
- Veterinary student anxiety levels are elevated.
- Students are inadequately equipped to deal with increased adversity.
- Students place significant value on positive social comparison.
- Students are prone to depressive episodes and procrastination.
- Students harbor fear of failure that results in passive participation in professional settings.
- Student self-confidence levels are relatively high.
Study results also indicate a predominant basal motivator for veterinary students is protection against perceived failure. "Recognizing this tendency could be essential to faculty who are exploring methods for effectively communicating and interacting with their students," the study says.
Message to educators
To curb fear of failure, educators need to create well-defined goals and expectations for students, the study's authors suggest.
Considering student psychological dynamics, educators need to create a learning environment that promotes group achievement so success or failure is a shared student experience.
Another dynamic educators should be aware of is the "imposter syndrome" — the concern among high achievers entering a more elite level of performance that they don't belong.
According to the study, this belief motivates performers in professional settings to exhibit self-protective behaviors. These acts include a reluctance to participate in class, volunteer for simple medical procedures, indifference toward helping peers succeed and reluctance to participate in group projects.
Study participants were first-year students. Authors of the paper suggest follow-ups to assess performance levels throughout veterinary school.
"We are continuing to gather data about the personal growth characteristics of students enrolled at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine," Burns says. "We have selected some personality profile instruments that are a bit more apropos to veterinary medical students who, after all, are a subset of the overall population of high achiever."