In an effort to prepare its graduates for their lifelong vocations, WSU’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences is one of two schools in North America to host an orientation camp for first-year students that focuses on communication, teamwork and ethics.

“UC Davis has one, but it is more heavily oriented towards classroom activities while WSU has more of a boot-camp atmosphere,” said Rick DeBowes, VCS department chair.

“Our students’ experience is dynamic, hands-on and interactive.”

The intensive 2- to 3-day camp is held annually in Post Falls, Idaho, and is funded by continuing gifts from alumni, citizens, clients and corporations. Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc., just gave $135,000 to help fund the camp and character-development curriculum in the coming year.

“If Washington State is to be a truly world-class institution, we must not only give our students an excellent medical education, but we must give them some opportunity to grow in the areas of wisdom, emotional intelligence and character development, so that they will apply that knowledge in a responsible manner,” DeBowes said.

“You could be a brilliant scientist, but if your interpersonal skills were commensurate with membership in the Manson family, you wouldn’t have much of a clientele, would you?” he said. “Brilliance, unfettered by integrity, can have tremendously negative consequences, as demonstrated by the leadership of World Com and Enron. Veterinary medicine cannot go down that path.”

DeBowes stressed the need to take the competitive nature of the medical curriculum and give it a collegial twist: “This doesn’t mean we stop teaching anatomy and start teaching Hugs 101, but we may teach anatomy in such a way that interpersonal communication and collaboration are required to master that discipline. In so doing, we create an environment where students take additional competencies away from the class.

“No doctor or nurse in this world works alone,” said DeBowes. “They all function as part of a team.

“It will be really neat to watch differences over the next five or so years as graduates come out,” he said. “We hope we turn out people who are lifelong happy, compassionate, competent doctors. That’s the goal.”