The VLE- A Short History

Like all meaningful journeys, The Veterinary Leadership Experience began as a vision, a hope, a dream.  What if veterinary professionals could have the lives and careers they had always dreamed of having; lives and careers that were rewarding and fulfilling? The VLE co-founders, Dr. Kathy Ruby and Dr. Rick DeBowes had, in their capacities as a counseling psychologist and faculty administrator spent much of their professional lives working with veterinary students, faculty, health care team members and practitioners. From their different vantage points, Drs. Ruby and DeBowes noticed that from veterinary school to retirement, veterinarians and health care team members were often challenged by their personal choices, paradigms, attitudes and behaviors.

After seeing first hand the challenges experienced by these committed and high capacity people, as well as reflecting on the lessons of the KPMG Megastudy of the veterinary profession, Drs. Ruby and DeBowes developed an evidencebased program to create awareness of and support for the enhancement of personal leadership skills. That program, known today as Washington State University’s Cougar Orientation and Leadership Experience (COLE), was first made available in August of 2002 to incoming Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine students. It was intended to equip participants with the awareness, knowledge and experience that would enhance their education and subsequent personal and professional lives. Working with Dr. Dan Zenner and Dr. Gil Burns, both of WSU, the first COLE program was offered at Twin Low Cap in Rathdrum, ID to the WSU Class of 2006. The program was met with cautious optimism and curiosity.

The COLE program was moved to Ross Point Camp & Conference Center in 2003 and was expanded in length and depth. The program was funded solely by donation from animal health industry partners and a few generous individuals. Thanks to the encouragement of Dr. Chuck Wayner, Hill’s Pet Nutrition agreed to come forward to support our vision of a broader version of COLE, a national program made available to any veterinary student or faculty member. The Veterinary Leadership Experience was born.

The inaugural VLE took place in June 2004 at the Ross Point Camp & Conference Center in Post Falls, ID. In 2005, the AVMA joined in support and the program, then under the banner of the AVMA VLE, continued to grow and serve expanded audiences. Now in its 10th year, the VLE has grown and surpassed all that its founders had hoped possible. We have served students, faculty, practitioners and other health care team members from Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Western Europe, and North America.

As the event has continued to grow and expand, the need to move the program out of the incubator of Washington State University and into its own, free-standing organization became more and more apparent. Thus, with the support and encouragement of Drs. Ruby and DeBowes as well as the founding organization, Washington State University, The Veterinary Leadership Institute was started. Under the direction of Dr. Betsy Charles, a WSU graduate who has been involved with the program since 2005, the newly established Institute will carry on the tradition of providing evidence-based leadership training for the veterinary profession.

The VLI is excited to carry this program forward. It is our heartfelt wish that as you explore your own career during your VLE week, you will embrace the vision of emotionally intelligent servant-leadership presented here and carry it forward into your life and the lives of those around you, making our profession and our world a better place. Through your practice of VLE principles in your daily life and your commitment to give back to the VLE, great things can happen within our profession.