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Boosting leadership skills
  1. Chloe Hannigan


Royal Veterinary College student Chloe Hannigan was selected to join the Veterinary Leadership Experience in the USA in June. Here, she describes what the week involved

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IT'S not every day that an e-mail pops into your in-box inviting you to fly to the USA in 10 days' time, but that is exactly what happened in May when I was invited to participate in the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE). At that time, I had no idea what it would involve. On arrival in Post Falls, Idaho, we were introduced to a couple of fellow Brits from Bristol and any feelings of trepidation and jetlag melted away; a warmer welcome we could not have asked for – our veterinary colleagues, students and staff from all over the world were so friendly.

We soon discovered that the week was to be a mix of lectures, seminars, large and smaller group work and, above all, ‘tons of fun’. We were split up into groups of about 16, and in these groups we were to spend a lot of time together – talking, listening and working through a range of exercises, which helped us to get better acquainted and share our experiences.

Working as a team – a group challenge at the Veterinary Leadership Experience

My group's pivotal exercise was called ‘The caterpillar wire’, in which we learned about teamwork, managing individuals within a team, and helping each other to overcome personal difficulties. It is hard to explain, but through this exercise, people within my group suddenly went from being newly acquainted, to becoming firm friends. I changed from being a bit awkward at the emotion involved in the small group sessions, to looking forward to spending more time with my new friends and getting to know them better.

The lectures were also a highlight of the week. The speakers were exceptionally enthusiastic and inspirational; their talks were interactive, relevant and struck a chord with everyone. The lecture style was refreshingly upbeat and peppered with some hilarious YouTube clips. Video had a large role in the week, as the experience was filmed through its the various stages, and clips of people doing exercises were compiled into humorous and personal films, which were screened at the end of each day. The level of detail, the calibre of the organisers, and the ability of the participants to immerse themselves in the experience makes the VLE what it is – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in a special, vet-specific, life-changing experience.

That may sound something of a cliché, but I am grateful to have had the chance to learn so much about myself, to improve my leadership and teamwork skills, and to have met some fantastic people, who I genuinely intend to keep in touch with. Anyone who gets the chance to participate in the VLE should grasp it with both hands.

The RVC wants to establish its own version so that British vets and vet students can get involved. For further details please contact Mandi De Mestre (ademestre{at} or Jules Sherwood (jsherwood{at}

What is the VLE?

The VLE started at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002 as a leadership development programme for veterinary students. It is held at Ross Point Camp and Conference Center in Post Falls, Idaho, and is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Students and faculty members from nearly all US veterinary colleges, and a few foreign colleges, attend the AVMA VLE.

The curriculum is designed ‘to empower students to take responsibility for their preferred future. It provides a model for developing skills and lasting professional relationships in an international cohort of young veterinary leadership.’

It aims to strengthen the intrinsic leadership potential of the participants through an interactive curriculum, designed to encourage and promote personal transformation. Students are exposed to learning experiences and curricula intended to promote character development and enhance non-technical (professional) competencies, including emotional intelligence, professionalism, communication, teamwork, leadership, wisdom and creativity.

n Next year's VLE will be held from June 6 to 11.

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