People often ask me for my honest, best advice on how to be fantastic in the exam room. I generally don’t give it to them.
The reason is that most people want me to say something they can just decide to start doing with minimal or no additional effort compared to what they are already doing. It’s not because they are lazy. It’s just that people are busy and the idea of adding a significant outside-work commitment is generally not appealing (or even feasible).
People asking for advice are often looking for a piece of trivia that they don’t know which will unlock some new way of practicing. Advice like this might include “empathize more,” “choose happy,” or “make sure you’re leaning into active listening.” You get the picture.
Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with advice like this, and everything I listed is helpful, but let’s be honest… This kind of advice isn’t going to transform someone mediocre or inexperienced into someone really great at their job. Giving someone a piece of knowledge is not at all comparable to giving them a skill (and “giving” someone a skill is impossible).
I do find, however, that sometimes there are people who have the determination, time, and resources to actually go as hard as they can toward being the best exam room communicator they can possibly be. If you’re that person, I wrote this email for you.
This is the honest answer to the question of my best advice for how to be fantastic in the exam room. I’ve got three immediate recommendations:
- Toastmasters International – Toastmasters is a non-profit organization where people come together in person and practice speaking. They have a well-tested program that teaches great skills around organizing your thoughts, being concise, and projecting confidence. They also make you actually stand and deliver under pressure. I did Toastmasters every other week for my first 3 years as a veterinarian and it was one of the best investments I ever made.
- Improv Comedy Classes – After Toastmasters, improv comedy classes are my favorite tool for taking your communication skills to the next level. Depending on the theater, you will generally learn fantastic skills for validating people who have ideas that are different from yours, listening intentionally and powerfully, thinking on your feet, and responding to unexpected situations. I’ve been doing improv for over 10 years and it has impacted every aspect of my life.
Just like with Toastmasters, reading about improv skills is not remotely comparable to having to stand up and demonstrate them over and over again. Most improv 101 classes last for 6+ weeks, but some intensive courses can be done in a jam-packed weekend. Google “Improv comedy classes near me” to find your closest theater.
- Uncharted Leadership Essentials Certificate – I put 15 years of communication and management consulting experience from working with literally hundreds of veterinary practices into creating the most concise and useful leadership course possible. The Uncharted Leadership Essentials certificate is designed for anyone who leads or manages other people, but the communication skills taught therein are invaluable.
The certificate is 8 hours of CE and covers building trust rapidly, understanding peoples’ values and motivators, giving feedback that gets heard, recognizing different communication styles, and holding people accountable – all important skills in the exam room. The Uncharted team delivers this content on-demand through VetFolio, in a hybrid learning model that includes 8 live virtual implementation sessions (coming in March for Uncharted members), and a live, in-person immersive experience (registration for our May program in Atlanta is now open, with our June program in Minneapolis are opening soon).
So there you have it. Those are my three favorite resources if you really want to get serious about radically improving your skills in the exam room. Yes, they all take time and effort outside of work. I wish there was a way around this, but I don’t think there is. Skills have to be built one way or another. Many of us grind them out in the exam room and there’s nothing wrong with that. I truly believe, however, that if you can make any of these resources above work, they are a worthwhile investment in jumping ahead more quickly.