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Veterinary Diagnostic Challenges celebrates 30 year anniversary

This week, for the 30th consecutive year, second-year veterinary students at Washington State University traded roles with veterinarians from around the country.

While the students put on their white coats and received their first medical case, nearly two dozen WSU veterinary alumni from around the nation ventured to Pullman to facilitate the learning experience. And for the first time, the volunteering veterinarians received continuing education credits critical to the ever-evolving veterinary field.

The annual event is known as the Diagnostic Challenges – a series of simulated case-based exercises featuring real-life experiences with volunteer clients and stuffed patients early in the second year of the curriculum. 

The now four-day program and veterinary curriculum staple was started in 1991 by Dr. Steve Hines. It is the first and only program of its kind and serves as the first case for veterinarians-to-be at WSU.

“They’re learning to communicate with a client while working through a case as a team,” the program’s new director, Dr. Jeffrey Abbott (‘97 DVM), said. “Where else are they going to learn to make a diagnosis before dealing with an actual client?”

The veterinarians, many of whom have participated in the Diagnostic Challenges, say they make the trip because they’ve experienced the significance of the program first-hand.

“There are so many things to navigate when working through a case with a client and this experience provides abundant opportunity to learn about the pitfalls and the solutions that can help them thrive in their careers,” said Dr. Katie Reese, (‘96 DVM) a Bozeman veterinarian who works at Banfield Pet Hospital.

Dr. Kevin Sheehy (‘96 DVM) said reliving and participating in the experience keeps him sharp at Wine Country Veterinary Hospital in California’s Napa Valley.

“I am continuing to learn every year I participate in a Diagnostic Challenges,” Sheehy said. “I also get to talk to my peers and fellow WSU alumni, and professors; we always end up talking about cases and networking. Keeping those relationships is critical because I end up calling people I’ve participated with at the Diagnostic Challenges, and we work through cases with each other.”

Sheehy also plans to take advantage of this year’s continuing education credit, noting in California veterinarians are required to have 36 hours of continuing education per year. In Washington state veterinarians are required to have 30 hours every two years.

This year is the second year Dr. Zach Warmenhoven (‘17 DVM), a Wenatchee veterinarian, volunteered at the event. He said the Diagnostic Challenges make him a stronger veterinarian and a better colleague back at Cascade Veterinary Clinic.

 “This is a profession where we are all teaching each other and trying to teach students, rather than speaking to them, helps them to learn on their own, and it makes you a better teammate in practice,” said Warmenhoven.

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