CSU responds to vet training changes

It was with great sadness that I read the biased and misleading article published yesterday (Feb. 22) in The Fence Post entitled “CSU bows to activist pressure, denies surgical experience to DVM students.” I submit that this is not responsible journalism, but rather an opportunity seized by vocal individuals seeking to advance personal agendas without regard to facts. Ms. Rachel Gabel did not seek to interview me until after the article was published, nor did she request interviews with our surgical faculty.

The administration, staff, and faculty who serve in the CSU DVM Program are passionate, skilled educators who are dedicated to student success. Evidence of this includes a world-renowned client communications program, a dedicated DVM counselor, a financial advisor and educator (CSU being the first College of Veterinary Medicine to create such a post), ever-increasing regional and international primary care opportunities, and broad, robust clinical training. It is disappointing that individuals have chosen to engage in such damaging, accusatory dialogue despite multiple communications providing facts contrary to their assertions.

In July of 2020, I convened an “Animal Use in DVM Education” Committee. I charged this group of faculty and staff with developing a roadmap to move us away from use of terminal procedures for teaching, while replacing this component with activities of equal or greater educational value. As part of this process, we contacted surgical educators at other colleges of veterinary medicine, reviewed health education literature, and discussed options and challenges.

In the fall of 2020, Dean Stetter, Dr. Dean Hendrickson, and I hosted an open forum for current DVM students during which time the decision was shared and feedback was heard. I provided lengthy written responses to expressed concerns, and students were invited to participate in program development. In the fall and winter of 2020, I sent letters to alumni and referring veterinarians detailing the multiple reasons for the decision to move away from terminal procedures, and broadly outlining the future surgical training program at CSU. Within these communications, a survey link was provided so that respondents could share feedback and ideas for future programming, as well as provide contact information should they wish to participate in program development. We currently seek additional feedback from state veterinary professionals through a proposed survey to be distributed to the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association membership. This extensive survey solicits more detailed input regarding core surgical competencies expected of day one graduates from the perspective of their future colleagues and employers. Collectively, these activities reflect a keen awareness of the need for stakeholder input as we identify core surgical competencies across species, and a strong desire to provide a robust, relevant surgical training program to optimally equip our graduates to serve future patients, clients, and colleagues.

To gain a clear understanding of the scope of the decision to eliminate terminal procedures, please be aware that there are three elective (not core) 3rd year laboratories impacted: Food Animal Surgery, Anesthesia, and Diagnostics; Junior Surgery; Advanced Equine Procedures. As these are elective laboratories, students have never been required to participate in them in order to graduate. The benefit of these experiences is indisputable; yet, some have used words such as “one and done” or “experience does not confer competence” in describing these types of offerings in isolation. Alumni survey respondents convey a perceived lack of surgical preparedness; indeed, one of the article contributors acknowledged that he “wasn’t as prepared as he could have been” having progressed through the same surgical training program that exists today. This is not due to a lack of faculty expertise, talent, and dedication, nor a lack of tremendous learning opportunities; in fact, our existing program is very strong.

Yet, I believe we can do better.

To that end, our new approach to surgical training will include earlier and more robust exposure to foundational surgical principles and skills, greater integration and opportunity for repetition/practice, continued in-house and community high volume spay/neuter experience, and expansion of authentic primary care surgical experiences that include the critical anesthetic recovery and postoperative training inherently absent in terminal procedures. With the aforementioned partnership of practicing professionals and of current students, CSU teaching award recipients Drs. Dean Hendrickson, Catriona

MacPhail, and Tanya Applegate are identifying core surgical competencies across species that must serve as the foundation upon which we build our educational offerings. We will then “work backwards” to strategically design our training to ensure that graduates are proficient in these core skills at the time of graduation. Concomitantly, we will identify alternatives to the elective terminal procedures that support proficiency in core competencies… approaches that are well known to surgical educators and employed by other highly successful colleges of veterinary medicine (e.g. Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Kansas State University, Lincoln Memorial University, Louisiana State University, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, The Ohio State University, University of Florida, University of Pennsylvania, University of Wisconsin, and Western University).

As to the charges of “activist pressure”, the move to eliminate terminal use of animals in DVM education is being led by our parent professional organization the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. We have provided a detailed multifactorial rationale for the decision to our students, alumni, and referring colleagues. Quite simply, we can provide equal or better training incorporating well-established strategies adopted by surgical educators in the aforementioned programs… and we should.

In response to our outreach, one faculty clinician indicated, “Based on employer survey data for our first three classes, in general our students exceed expectations for surgical skills. As a trained surgeon myself, I have been impressed with the level of surgical skills our students have upon graduation.” Another surgical educator wrote, “…high-quality, intensive training using models and cadavers and ensuring competence in core surgical skills prior to spay/neuter experience has been validated through both evidence and anecdote. The opportunity that has made the single biggest difference to student competence in my experience in terms of surgical speed, versatility, and confidence is access to a spay/neuter rotation following a robust simulation and psychomotor skills curriculum.”

As a highly ranked, accredited program, there is no incentive for the CSU DVM Program to provide anything less than exceptional training to our students who entrust us with their education and professional development. Certainly allowing our program to sink to the level asserted in Ms. Gabel’s article would be not only an egregious dereliction of our responsibility to our students and stakeholders, it would place us at risk as an accredited program.

As a CSU alum, I take great pride in our program, students, and educators. As Associate Dean for Veterinary Academic and Student Affairs, I take our responsibility to our students, and to future patients, clients, and colleagues, very seriously. The charge that CSU is “throwing their students to the wolves” for any reason, as well as the accusations of “educational abandonment” and “educational fraud”, are inaccurate, irresponsible, and deeply offensive. As I have emphasized to one of the article contributors many times, we are building and improving our program. The assertion that “… graduates will have more limited surgical experience…” is untrue. Students will be better prepared to perform the array of surgical procedures required of them upon graduation. With this comes confidence, sustainability, and improved wellbeing of our alumni.

The CSU DVM Program is exceptional, and we will continue to train veterinarians who are well equipped to uphold the Veterinarian’s Oath “…to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”


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