Education in the Health Professions

: 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 39--41

The value of articulating desirable applicant qualities

Samuel C Karpen, Scott A Brown, Sherry A Clouser 
 Office of Academic Affairs, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens, Georgia

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Samuel C Karpen
College of Veterinary Medicine, 501 D.W. Brooks Drive, Athens 30602

How to cite this article:
Karpen SC, Brown SA, Clouser SA. The value of articulating desirable applicant qualities.Educ Health Prof 2020;3:39-41

How to cite this URL:
Karpen SC, Brown SA, Clouser SA. The value of articulating desirable applicant qualities. Educ Health Prof [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Oct 7 ];3:39-41
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While all colleges of veterinary medicine articulate the skills and qualities expected of graduates, relatively few articulate the desirable skills and qualities of applicants and students. Indeed, only one of the colleges in the Southeast Veterinary Educational Consortium (SEVEC) lists desirable applicant and student qualities on its website. Outside of the SEVEC, only 45% of remaining U. S. colleges articulate the qualities that they value in applicants or students, often with widely varying depth and specificity. Similarly, little research exists on skills and qualities, aside from undergraduate grades and GRE scores, that predict success in a DVM program. Because a new graduate's skills and qualities should be related to his/her skills and qualities as an applicant, we argue that colleges of veterinary medicine should more clearly define qualities that they find desirable in applicants. Not only would this exercise have the potential to unite admissions committees and inform applicants of their fitness, but it could also function as a values clarification exercise for the entire college. Multiple parties would benefit from a clear understanding of the type of student that the college hopes to attract and retain.

A southeastern college of veterinary medicine recently completed such an exercise. The college's IRB committee determined that the project was not human subjects research. As part of an effort to create an admissions rubric, all 2018 applicant reviewers received an online survey that asked them to list and rank the five most important qualities that they sought when reviewing applications. Forty-two surveys were returned completed. Because the ultimate goal of the college's DVM program is to produce competent clinicians, the researchers felt that it was important to also seek input from clinical faculty, so clinical faculty received a similar survey that asked them to list and rank the five most important qualities for success on clinical rotations. Thirty-seven surveys were returned completed.

A member of the Office of Academic Affairs reviewed the completed surveys and identified twelve constructs within the respondents' comments. Six constructs were common to both surveys: intelligence, motivation, social skills, organization, maturity, and ethics/morality. Two constructs were unique to the application reviewer survey: understanding of the veterinary profession and leadership. Three constructs were unique to the clinician survey: good attitude, compassion, and adequate knowledge base.

Themes common to both surveys

All reported qualities related to academic or intellectual preparedness were included in the “academically and intellectually prepared” construct. These included intellectual curiosity, intelligence, academic ability, academic success, problem solving ability, critical thinking, reasoning ability, and love of learning. All reported qualities related to motivation and determination were included in the “motivated and determined” construct. These included motivation, determination, grit, resilience, perseverance, and dedication. All reported qualities related to social skills were included in the “socially skilled” construct. These included verbal communication skills, written communication skills, social skills, communication skills, teamwork, interpersonal skills, collegiality, and ability to work with others. All reported qualities related to ethics and morals were included in the “ethical” construct. These included ethical, compassionate, person of character, service oriented, moral, and honest. All reported qualities related to organization were included in the “organized” construct. These included organized, good time management, efficient, and attention to details.

Themes unique to survey of application reviewers

All reported qualities related to well roundedness were included in the “well rounded” construct. These included well rounded, multiple interests, interests and experiences outside of veterinary medicine, and involvement with multiple organizations. Any mention of leadership or management was included in the “capable leader” construct. [Table 1] displays the constructs from the survey completed by application reviewers, the number of times that each construct was referenced, and the construct's mean rank out of five.{Table 1}

Themes unique to the survey of clinical faculty

All reported traits and qualities related to “good attitude” were included in the “good attitude construct.” These included positive attitude, genuine interest, enthusiasm, humility, and dependability. All reported traits and qualities related to compassion were included in the “compassionate” construct. These included compassionate, patient, caring, and empathetic. Any mention of an adequate knowledge base was included in the “adequate knowledge base” construct. [Table 2] displays the constructs from the clinician survey, the number of times that each construct was referenced, and the construct's mean rank out of five.{Table 2}

Common results

The most frequently mentioned desirable qualities in both surveys were related to academic and intellectual ability, determination, and social skills. These qualities also tended to receive high rankings. The surveys also shared maturity, organization, and ethics, but these qualities were mentioned relatively infrequently. This was expected as a student who has strong drive, intellectual capacity, and communication skills would be expected to navigate the DVM program most successfully, no matter how adaptable, mature, ethical, organized, or enthusiastic he/she is.

Applicant reviewer results

Both the mean rank and the number of mentions for “well rounded” were somewhat surprising, as it was ranked above both leadership and character and mentioned nearly as many times as “understanding of the profession.” This is likely to be considered important as it is an index of other traits, such as academic ability and social or communication skills. Leadership's appearance was also surprising, as it is less clear how leadership abilities translate to success in the program, though it also may be valued as a reflection of other important attributes such as social and communication skills.

Clinical faculty results

The constructs unique to the clinical survey – adequate knowledge base, compassion, adaptability, and a good attitude – were not surprising. In the preveterinary and preclinical curriculum, where most work is completed individually in a classroom and most performance is assessed by multiple choice examinations, compassion, adaptability, and good attitude may be less important than in the clinic where performance depends on the ability to interact successfully with clients, patients, and peers in a complex environment. In addition, a good knowledge base is the intended result of the preclinical curriculum, and undergraduate grades are taken as a surrogate for knowledge base during the admissions process. Given the clinical faculty's propensity to list “soft” skills, it was surprising that leadership was only mentioned by the application reviewers. Perhaps with the presence of interns and residences, there are fewer opportunities for students to lead.

The recent emphasis on competency-based education in colleges of veterinary medicine sets desirable goals for the DVM curriculum. Accordingly, our college has adopted the competency goals of the AAVMC's Competency-Based Veterinary Education (CBVE) initiative. Thus, it is not surprising that many of the qualities and traits identified as desirable both by reviewers of applicant files and clinical faculty (e.g., communication skills and ethical) reflect the CBVE competency domains. Other traits or qualities considered to be desirable in an applicant or student (e.g., organized, mature, and adaptable) seem to reflect more basic personal characteristics that arguably make an individual more likely to become competent in the CBVE domains.

A DVM curriculum strives to create the most competent veterinarians in 4 years. There is inherent value to a college in identifying the traits and qualities that facilitate the development of competencies during clinical training and to the extent possible, matching these with the traits and qualities sought in the admission process. Admission processes often rely heavily on undergraduate GPA and GRE scores. In our surveys, a desirable trait or quality was identified by an admission committee member or a clinical faculty member a total of 294 times. Only 46 (16%) of these times was the trait linked to intelligence (admissions survey; intelligence mentioned 33 times) or academics (clinical faculty survey; good knowledge base mentioned 13 times). Neither of these traits had the highest mean rank in either survey.

We argue that admission committees should collaborate with others in the college to identify qualities that, if identified in applicants, are likely to enhance the development of professional competencies. One concern, however, is that publicizing desirable qualities could encourage students to “game the system” by exaggerating the extent to which they possess said qualities. While this will likely occur, admission committees should not take applicants that their word. Any claims should be supported by essays, interviews, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, work experience, and whatever else the admissions committee considers an adequate source of evidence. In addition, assessing these qualities and traits in applicants is a challenge as most undergraduate education is still content and not competency based. It seems self-evident, however, that efforts to focus on consensus building to identify desirable traits and qualities should be a focus of colleges of veterinary medicine.