CSU bows to activist pressure, denies surgical experience to DVM students
A snowy herd of cows stand in a field off of McLain Flats Rd. on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times
The Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine announced, without input from doctors of veterinary medicine students, faculty or external stakeholders, the cancellation of terminal surgical teaching procedures. For large and small animal owners, this means graduates will have more limited surgical experience upon graduation.
In a letter from Dr. Melinda Frye, associate dean for Veterinary Academic and Student Affairs, professor, Biomedical Sciences, announced the change, the strong support of Dean Mark Stetter, and the implementation of a “longitudinal surgical training program based on multispecies application of foundational principles and skills, using models, cadavers, virtual reality, and authentic clinic and field experiences.”
In response, a group of CSU-trained veterinary practitioners are voicing their deep concern that the change will be detrimental to the students, the veterinary profession, and the general welfare of animal clients, large and small.
Dr. Chad Zadina, a 2009 graduate of the program, said the outcome will be quite the opposite, damaging the welfare of animals. In Zadina’s experience, practitioners, especially in rural areas currently experiencing a grave shortage of veterinarians, a wide range of surgical procedures are often expected of practitioners. Zadina said when he was faced with this wide array of procedures on several species as a new graduate, he wasn’t as prepared as he could have been but possessed adequate skills to perform general surgeries as well as more specialized procedures independently.
This lack of experience, he said, will affect overall animal welfare by not adequately preparing graduates to perform life saving procedures, causing animals to die. The argument, he said, that it is unethical to perform training surgeries is not valid as animals used for terminal surgeries, already selected for slaughter or euthanasia, are placed under anesthesia, and euthanized under anesthesia without pain, using tactics he said that are more humane than some used by laypeople in a shelter or industry situation.
“The key here is that animals are going to suffer because of this decision,” he said. “Now, a graduate without good mentorship will be expected to do things they’re not trained to do. Botched surgeries cause animals to suffer and sometimes die.”
Dr. Jessica Wydallis, a 2013 graduate, drafted a letter to defend the valuable training surgeries conducted under the supervision of CSU’s renowned veterinary surgeons and specialists.
“We should not let outside groups or activist organizations pressure us into changing our education and training,” Wydallis said. “We are responsible for the future of veterinary medicine and surgery — the health and welfare of the nation’s population of pets and livestock as a whole, depend on us. Let’s remember what it means to be advocates for our future generations. Let’s remember what it was like to be a student full of passion to help animals, desire to learn all possible things, and hope for a successful, happy career. Let’s remember the diversity in veterinary demographics — many rural and poor areas have limited veterinary care or referral options, and an animal’s life may depend on a new graduate’s surgical skills.”
In her letter, Wydallis explained that the client’s perception of this individual’s inability or unwillingness to treat may be reported on social media furthering the damage to this new doctor’s mental health. In an era, she said, of skyrocketing suicide rates among veterinary professionals, graduating veterinarians lacking the experience, skills, and confidence that these surgical labs once provided is potentially a matter of life and death for animals and veterinarians alike.
Dr. Lora Bledsoe, a 2013 graduate who owns a mobile large animal practice in eastern Colorado with 85,000 animals in her care over a 7,300 square mile area, opposes the change and said the employability of CSU graduates will decrease. Bledsoe said she would be unwilling to hire a young veterinarian without this live animal surgery experience.
“I see it as unethical and a violation of the trust of my clients to allow my new hires to attempt to practice their surgery skills for the first time on my client’s valuable animals when they could have done that on culled animals meant for slaughter,” Bledsoe said. “Any mistakes made in such a situation would mean the suffering — potentially long term- of the animal and significant financial loss to my client and I would never allow it.”
Bledsoe said it is a fact that students will attempt their first surgeries on live animals at some point in their career, the question is whether it will be under the guidance and supervision of trained educators in a controlled environment on animals that will not experience suffering, or potentially alone in an emergency situation with limited resources on a treasured pet or valuable livestock.
“The vet school is throwing their students to the wolves in an attempt to save face with activists,” Bledsoe said. “This is educational abandonment. If I were to disregard the complete care of my patients similarly to how CSU is disregarding the complete education of their students, it would be malpractice.”
As the debt load for graduates of veterinary schools rises, Bledsoe said students who have invested incredible amounts of resources into education at an institution that promised them a practical, hands-on surgical education that will now not fulfill what it promised.
“This should be considered, at best, a bait and switch, and at worst, educational fraud,” she said.
Dr. Julie Carroll, a 2013 CSU graduate shared her concern for the current students who enrolled expecting that training to be available to them. Carroll said new graduates are already equipped with limited surgical skills and this decision will worsen this lack of preparation.
From a welfare standpoint, Frye wrote that CSU is the university home to Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Bernard Rollin, putting the program in what she called a unique position to become a leader in welfare education and practices, which benefits students, the program, and the profession. In her letter, Frye said the university can expect “continued requests for accountability from advocacy groups such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.”
The rationale Frye offered for the change, in part, was a move led by the parent professional organization, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. According to Frye’s letter, many peer institutions have implemented these changes including Penn, Western, Ohio, Tufts, Florida, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Michigan, Lincoln Memorial, Kansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.
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