DC for Clients



Questions and Answers

The Diagnostic Challenge is a complex program that is always evolving to fit the needs of the student's education and overall the quality of their experience. The program has many levels and there is bound to be a few questions. Below is a list of the most common question and answers about the program.


What are the Diagnostic Challenges?

The Diagnostic Challenges are multidisciplinary, case-based exercises offered to veterinary students during the second year of vet school. Conducted collaboratively by instructors and visiting veterinarians in the fall semester, the Diagnostic Challenge (DC) strives to encourage students to apply the knowledge and vet-diagnostic-450problem-solving skills learned in the classroom to simulated clinical cases. For 4 days during two designated weeks of the second year, large blocks of time are created during which students, divided into groups or "clinics" of 4-5 students, are assigned a clinical case to investigate and diagnose. Although no live animals are used, each case has a client who represents the patient (which may be a dog, cat, horse, sheep or any other domestic or exotic animal) as owner or caretaker. Working with the client and learning to interact effectively with the other students in the clinic bring some important (nonscientific) educational issues into the DC experience.


Who are the key players?

There are three main groups of people that make up the DCs - Client, Facilitator, and Clinic Team. Below is an explanation of the roles and expectation/functions of each "player."


Clients are volunteers who are unknown to the students (i.e. parents of 3rd or 4th year students, community members, alumni, nonDVM faculty, etc.), they have proven to be the most realistic and effective simulated client.

DC Clients DO NOT know what is wrong with their patient/herd, thus giving the sense of realism for both the students and client volunteers.

Most commonly play themselves, with a few changes depending on their case.

Every Client is paired with a Facilitator.


Facilitators are DVMs that are typically practitioners, alumni, faculty and residents.

The role of the facilitator is to to direct the DC case and:

  • Guide and teach the students
  • Provide all case material and details
  • Evaluate the students and medical records
  • Provide guidance and support to the client

Clinic Team

The Clinic Team, also referred to as the "Clinic," are 2nd year veterinary students participating in the program. Typically there are five students per clinic (occasionally there are 6). Their role is to approach this scenario as if it was a real case coming into their clinic, working with the client, the patient, and learning along the way.

How is the DC organized with all the key players?

The "case simulations" are 1 week long and each simulation is done twice in the fall semester. Typically, there are 5 different cases running simultaneously, where four "clinic teams" are assigned to each case. Clients are paired with Facilitators, and each pair has two clinics. Therefore, each case has two facilitator/client pairs and 4 clinic teams.

Here is a diagram to better illustrate this concept:


What is a Case/Scenario?

This is the case you will receive as a simulated client to use throughout the week.  These cases are typically based off of real cases seen in the hospital or surrounding area. 

Why is "effective client interaction" in veterinary medicine important?

Veterinary medicine is a profession that deals with animals and people. Veterinary students spend four years learning the scientific knowledge and technical skills they will need in order to diagnose and treat the animals under their care. However, very little time in the curriculum is devoted to the "people skills" which are also needed to be a successful veterinarian. The ability to communicate and listen effectively and to be sensitive to a client's individual circumstances are just as important in veterinary medicine as they are in human medicine. Because animals can't talk, a positive relationship between veterinarian and client can be significant in the veterinarian's ability to help the patient. Second year veterinary students are just learning these communication skills. At this stage, the opportunity to explain things and answer questions is invaluable. We often think we understand something until someone asks us to explain it!

Why are Diagnostic Challenges important?

The DC's provide an innovative way for veterinary students to begin developing good client skills early in the curriculum. In addition, most students find that working with clients not only improves their communication skills but also increases their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter because they have to be able to answer client questions and logically explain the conditions of the case. Learning is enhanced because the students must understand the material well enough to educate the client.

What are the benefits of being a client?


Volunteer clients have a unique opportunity to participate in the educational process of veterinary students. Although the time commitment is large for four days, most clients enjoy the experience and feel that they have been able to contribute to the development of the next generation of veterinarians.

Do I need to have acting experience?

Definitely not!  As long as you have owned an animal or managed a ranch previously, you have plenty of experience!  We want you to be yourself and act as if this was your own pet or livestock. We will provide some training and background information before you receive your case to make sure you feel comfortable and can enjoy being a DC client!

Do I know what is wrong with my patient?

Nope!  Just like in real life, clients do not know what is wrong with their patient and are counting on their veterinarians to work through the case and give them answers.

Do I need to bring my animal with me?

You do not need to bring an animal with you.  Simulated patients (such as stuffed animals) are used for these mock exercises.

What kind of time commitment is required?

DC clients need to be in Pullman on the day before the DC begins to participate in the morning training session (9 am to 12 pm) and for an evening meeting (6 pm) with their assigned facilitator. You need to be available to meet with the students pretty much all day on Days 1-3, and sometimes students may need to call you in the evenings (depending on your case). Plan to be here until at least 5 pm on day 3. Many clients like to attend the student presentations (DC Grand Rounds) on Day 4 - but that is by no means required. See EXPECTATIONS for more information on time requirements and an example of a typical weekly schedule.

What is a "time out"?

Anyone (client, facilitator, or clinic team) can call a "time out" anytime during an interview. A "time out" pauses the current session and allows the opportunity to ask a question, get clarification, or confer with the rest of team/consultant on any issue that caused the "time out." At the conclusion of the "time out" the interview will continue at the same point where the pause began.

What is a "time leap"?

This occurs occasionally in cases, where time "leaps" forward in order to observe changes in clinic signs over time or test results returned in a timely manner. Since the DCs are condensed into 4 days (3 of them to determine the outcome of the cases) we have to "leap" ahead in time (days, weeks, or months) to give the students a realistic sense of what would occur naturally.

How can I get more information or become a volunteer client?

New clients are welcome. If you would like to volunteer or would like further information, please contact Dr. Steve Hines (335-6069) or Dr. Rachel Halsey (335-6015) or email.

Washington State University