What are Interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills, also called social skills or people skills, aim to help you build relationships. In veterinary medicine, some of the most important skills are communication and empathy.

Effective communication is essential to success in the veterinary field. In the 2006 edition of Ontario Veterinary College’s “Essential Skills and Abilities Required for the Study of Veterinary Medicine,” communication is the second ability listed. Communication is also listed as the top skill in Granville College’s “Top 5 Skills Needed to Succeed as a Veterinary Assistant,” with empathy second, and communication is also the focus of the article “You can’t do good medicine without good communication skills” posted by the University of Calgary.

We communicate with hundreds of pet owners, be it in person or over the phone. It is essential, especially when delivering or receiving medically pertinent information, that we communicate effectively and listen actively. In order to achieve a trusting and fulfilling veterinarian-client patient relationship, it is important to exhibit empathy.

Teaching Interpersonal Skills

Contrary to popular belief, bedside manner, communication, and empathy are skills that can be taught. Displaying compassion is incredibly important in such an emotionally taxing field.

Multiple veterinary schools have established programs to help develop communication skills and empathy within their students. Typically, these programs consist of simulated scenarios. The University of Calgary’s Clinical Communication Skills program, for example, allows actors to play the role of clients. Students then enter these simulated office visits with limited case information, and work to use appropriate communication skills to help both patient and client through possibly emotionally taxing situations, such as diagnosis with cancer or need for euthanasia.

Students at the University of Calgary go through three years of professional skills training. They are taught to build a relationship of trust, how to communicate medical information clearly, and how to be empathetic.

How can I improve my skills?

According to Karen Schuder, Ed.D., M.Div., M.A.M., there are seven tips for good communication:

“1) Listen: Good listening leads to better responding. More than just hearing others talk, listening means paying attention to what someone is saying.

2) Affirm what is right: Make sure you notice and mention the good things that are happening. Especially if you have to talk about a difficult subject, it is helpful to offer sincere affirmations along with what may be difficult to hear.

3) Keep it clear and simple: No matter how detailed and complicated an explanation is, keep the final directives simple and easy to remember.

4) Engage in active listening: After listening to someone, rephrase what you heard. This can clear up assumptions and misunderstandings.

5) Use positive statements: It is generally easier to follow positive directives so prescribe what a person is to do, rather than what they should not do.

6) Use I Statements: When we are frustrated or challenged it is easy to fall into patterns of blaming or denial, but this is not helpful. Using statements starting with “I” rather than “you” can be less offensive and more accurately reflect our perception.

7) Monitor your mood: Body language is loud and how we feel is easily communicated, so be attentive to your moods.”

The International Conference on Communication in Veterinary Medicine, held annually, focuses on developing communication skills. This year’s conference was held in April at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and the next will be held in June of 2020 at St. Kitts. The conference has been approved for RACE CE credits.

In addition to honing your skills on your own, it could also be beneficial to consider hospital-wide training. There are online resources such as training videos, articles to share, case studies, or even teamwide scenario walkthroughs.

Remember that your client is often your patient’s voice, and it is crucial to foster that relationship.


Essential Skills and Abilities Required for the Study of Veterinary Medicine. (2006, May). Retrieved from  opens in a new windowwww.ovc.uoguelph.ca/recruitment/en/ applyingtodvm/resources/OntarioVeterinaryCollegeE ssentialSkillsandAbilitiesRequiredfortheStudyofVete rinaryMedicine.pdf

Kirn, T. (2009, May 4). Veterinary medicine embraces interpersonal skills training. Retrieved from https:// news.vin.com/vinnews.aspx?articleId=12784

Schuder, K. (2017, April 07). The importance of communication skills in veterinary medicine VETgirl Blog. Retrieved from  opens in a new windowvetgirlontherun.com importance-communication-skills-veterinarymedicine- vetgirl-veterinary-continuing-educationblog/

Top 5 Skills Needed to Succeed as a Veterinary Assistant. (2016, July 20). Retrieved from https:// granvillecollege.ca/blog/top-5-skills-needed-tosucceed- as-a-veterinary-assistant/

You can’t do good medicine without good communication skills. (n.d.). Retrieved from https:// vet.ucalgary.ca/home/news/you-cant-do-goodmedicine- without-good-communication-skills