A new attitude

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A new attitude

Study examines changing personality types among incoming veterinary students
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Apr 01, 2010

NATIONAL REPORT — It's not just years that are defining generational differences — personalities actually are shifting, according to a new study of veterinary students.

After all, when it comes to the veterinary profession, fundamental changes have been going on for years, experts say. More women continue to enter the profession, and the market continues to break from its roots in agriculture to companion-animal care. Technology and communication is also changing the landscape.

The result is attracting a different kind of veterinarian, explains Joseph Taboada, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, associate dean of student and academic affairs and professor of small-animal internal medicine at the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine and a co-author of a study based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that analyzes how personalities of incoming veterinary students are changing. "It might also say a little something about people who want to become veterinarians at this point."

Personality types among incoming veterinary students have been consistent for quite some time, but shifted dramatically from 2004 to 2007, according to the study published recently in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

Traditionally, the majority of veterinary students tested as ISTJ and ESTJ personality types. (Learn more about the personality types and how they are indentified in the sidebar "The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator explained.")

ISTJs are task-oriented and matter-of-fact. They typically weigh information carefully before making decisions. This personality type has been described as determined, reliable and conscientious with a no-nonsense and logical communication style.

"People with this personality type give, and expect others, to follow exact directions," the study notes.

ESTJs, on the other hand, like to solve immediate problems and like tangible results. They use past experiences as reference points for decision-making and hold themselves and others to clear standards. In terms of communication, ESTJs are quick to question ideas and facts and are often fond of debates with take-charge approaches that can be abrupt or impersonal.

ISTJs were most common over the 12-year span of the study, but clearly dropped off in the last four years.

Feeling types (ESFJ and ISFJ) are increasing faster than thinking types, and not just among women. Though feeling type personalities are more common among women, another co-author of the study says incoming male veterinary students also are leaning more toward the feeling type. In the study, ESFJ increased the fastest among all genders.

"The differences weren't just because they were female," says Stephanie Johnson, MSW, LCSW, a co-author of the study. Johnson is a certified social worker, and teaches in LSU's Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences with an interest in the human-animal bond.

Differences in personality types can lead to learning and communication differences in the classroom and in the workplace, Johnson says.

"Biggest thing — we are no longer teaching ourselves," Johnson says, explaining that faculty and students might clash over how information should be delivered and absorbed. "With the Myers-Briggs, it's the way we take in information, the way we see things, our interest and our ideas. Are we teaching to the same group of students we used to teach? Are our students going to have any difficulty because they aren't taught by faculty that have the same personality types?"

But sensing and feeling personality types are predominant among the general population, and a shift toward this personality type among veterinarians could help alleviate communication problems between practitioners and pet owners.

Veterinary schools over the last several years have placed greater focus on business and communication skills because of reported gaps in how well veterinarians are able to communicate with their clients, Johnson and Taboada note, and they question whether changing admission standards aimed at closing that gap are the cause for the shift in the profile of veterinary students.

What Taboada does know is that changes to personality profiles occurred right around the same time admission standards at LSU changed.

"It's hard to say if it caused it, but it definitely coincides," Taboada says. "We started to focus on more non-technical skills like communication."

Emphasis on more than grades and standardized test scores, coupled with a push to get more diversity in veterinary school populations both may be contributing to the personality shift, Johnson estimates.

Questions remain as to where the different personality types are going post-graduation and whether changing types are going into food-animal practice, companion-animal practice, public health, research or academic specialties, but Taboada and Johnson say it's something they would like to investigate further.

In the meantime, they encourage veterinarians to learn what personality types they are, so they can better understand their employees and students.

"I think if people can understand their own personality types better, it helps them understand why they might be doing things differently than somebody else," Taboada says.

Practitioners and their staffs could do the same, and it might give insight on how to best work together. More information about Myers-Briggs testing can be found at http://www.myersbriggs.org/. A free, but incomplete, version of the test can be found at http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes1.htm.