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“There are other ways of learning, obviously. There’s no doubt that hands-on experience is helpful. I think it’s up to our creativity to design new techniques.”
Dean Ted Valli 
The Daily Illini 
January 19, 2000
 
 

“Over the years, numbers of students have had serious objections to the use of animals in some of the programs, so it’s not a new issue.”
Dr. Gerald Pijanowski 
Associate Dean of Student Affairs
JAVMA
March 15, 2000
 
 

“None of us took it lightly that the animals were going to die at the end of the lab. That was a difficult part, but it’s important to our education that we be able to work on animals before we become veterinarians.”
Craig Miller, third-year student 
Chronicle of Higher Education 
February 4, 2000
 
 

“We have to weigh the value of these animals’ lives against the knowledge we would gain by killing them. Learning basic physiology does not seem like it even comes close. I could learn physiology 
from a book.”
 — Agnes Van Volkenburgh
3rd-year student, Chicago Tribune 
January 4, 2000
 
 

“As a licensed veterinarian and as the president of the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, I applaud the University of Illinois veterinary school for examining alternatives to teaching physiology using live animals. From my experience, I believe that little knowledge is gained by such use, and I question the rudimentary surgical skills and the ‘intangible edge’ that are believed to be gained. Surgery skills are best addressed in surgery class, not indirectly in a physiology lab.”
Dr. Gene Mueller (’87) 
 Chicago Tribune letter to the editor 
January 15, 2000

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Concerns Over Animal Use in Teaching Spark National Attention, Policy Changes
by Chris Beuoy

After a great deal of discussion within the College last semester about terminal laboratories in first-year physiology, the debate went public with a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune on January 4, 2000.

At issue were the limited educational options for students with ethical objections to the terminal laboratories. Of the 100 students in the first-year veterinary class, 26 gave advance notice in November that they would not participate in the spring semester physiology laboratories — demonstrations of cardiovascular and respiratory functions that would require a total of 40 dogs. About an equal number of pigs were used in non-survival physiology laboratories in the fall, as well as a smaller number of rats and rabbits throughout the course.

At the same time, a small group of students pressed for a written policy on the obligations of faculty and students in regard to conscientious objections to animal use in the teaching program. The students noted that the College’s de facto position allowed students to forgo the laboratories but did not require faculty members to provide another learning experience for those students.

Concerns Surface
Student objections to terminal laboratories are not new. For many years some had chosen quietly to bypass the laboratory experience. Toward the end of last year, however, the issue rose to the surface. 
• An open forum was held to discuss the educational value of the laboratories, with students and faculty expressing a variety of views.
• The Courses and Curriculum Committee, composed of six faculty and four student members, drafted for faculty comment a statement, for inclusion in recruitment materials, on animal use in the curriculum. This was the first step in developing a formal College policy on animal use in teaching.
• At the request of the student affairs office, an independent campus unit conducted an anonymous survey of all veterinary students to gather opinions about the laboratories. 
• Eight students who advocate teaching methods that do not involve terminal animal use compiled a document listing hundreds of existing educational materials that cover the physiology learning 
objectives and asked the physiology faculty to determine whether any would be appropriate as alternatives to the terminal laboratories.
When the faculty and administration neither endorsed these materials nor moved to find other alternatives, the students brought the situation to the media. 

Public Reaction, College Response
With the headline “Vet Students Oppose U of I Animal Killings,” the Tribune story generated attention in print and broadcast media throughout the state. The Web site of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) posted a request for its followers to send the College messages in support of the student conscientious objectors. Hundreds of email communications and letters poured in.

Meanwhile, Dean Ted Valli, meeting with other veterinary deans at an early January veterinary conference in Florida, learned that, of the 31 North American veterinary colleges, only two others used terminal laboratories to teach first-year physiology.

Although the students had not asked for the terminal laboratories to be halted, the dean decided to suspend their use in light of the practice at other colleges and the intense scrutiny by University administration and the public.

In a January 14 memorandum to the College, he noted that animal use protocol stipulates “the personnel conducting procedures on the animals being maintained or studied are appropriately qualified and trained in these procedures.” The dean’s memo stated that this condition “cannot reasonably be assured in the case of the labs where students are asked to carry out physiologic preparations in the early days of their first year of instruction.”

A new level of College oversight of animal use in the teaching program was added. The Courses and Curriculum Committee was charged by the University’s Laboratory Animal Care Advisory Committee to review existing as well as any new animal use protocols in the teaching program to ensure that animals are used appropriately across the four-year program. (Previously, animal use protocols were approved only by LACAC.)

The dean also created a policy of using only purpose-bred dogs purchased from Class A dealers for the teaching program. This measure addressed concerns that the dogs used could have been family companions accidentally or inappropriately acquired. 

Support for the Laboratories
A second front-page Chicago Tribune story detailing these changes ran January 18, just as students were returning from break. Many students were unhappy with the decision to suspend the laboratories, noting that a majority of first-year students expected to do them. The American Physiology Society, which supports the use of terminal animal laboratories, asked its members to protest the dean’s decision, and hundreds more messages were sent.

New waves of media coverage—much of it misrepresenting the facts in trying to reduce a complex issue to a headline or sound bite—converged on the College. The issue was mentioned in USA Today. It was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education. A call-in radio show on WGN addressed the topic, inviting as guests the dean, two veterinary students, and College alumni and Chicago practitioners Drs. Shelly Rubin and Gene Mueller.

Some members of the public—and even some students—criticized the cancellation of the physiology laboratories on the grounds that eliminating this “hands-on” animal experience would diminish students’ clinical skills as practitioners. (See “Hands-on”)

On February 2, tabulations of the student survey showed divided opinions on the value of the physiology laboratories. Of the 295 students from all four years who responded, a small majority reported that the experience “somewhat” enhanced their understanding of physiology; the remaining students were about equally divided between answering that the laboratories aided their grasp of physiology “substantially” or “not at all.” Slightly more than half (54%) felt that the “educational experience gained [was] worth the resources used.”

[Liz Norby]By gaining proficiency in surgical techniques using inanimate models, third-year students like Elizabeth Norby are ready to perform survival spays and neuters as their first surgeries.

Positive Steps Taken
On February 8, faculty approved a formal policy outlining expectations for students and faculty in regard to animal use in the teaching program. It states that the College will use live or dead animals to provide students with essential skills and interactive learning experiences and that protocols involving animals will be reviewed to ensure appropriateness within the curriculum and humane treatment of the animals.

It goes on to state that instructors, when notified before the beginning of the course, will provide alternative learning experiences for students whose beliefs lead them to choose not to participate in instructional laboratories that conclude with the death of animals.

The heightened awareness of ethical issues in veterinary medicine in the past few months has led to another positive outcome for students: regardless of their beliefs, students will be better prepared for ethical dilemmas in practice by confronting them now. (See “Ethics”)

Implications for the Future
Professional ethics and teaching techniques are continually evolving. Few would advocate returning to the days of teaching toxicology, for example, by demonstrating the effects of strychnine on a live dog, once a routine practice at veterinary schools.

Illinois has been a leader in developing alternatives to terminal animal procedures in the small animal surgery and dentistry curriculum. Our College was among the first to make survival spay/neuter surgeries, benefiting animals from local humane societies, the surgery course’s standard, not “alternative,” experience.

Campus administration has offered financial support for College faculty who take advantage of the University’s outstanding resources in computing and technology to develop simulations or other learning tools to replace the terminal laboratories.

The College’s new policy on animal use allows faculty to incorporate live animal demonstrations with committee approval, while making non-terminal approaches available for students who choose them. This policy should encourage exploration and comparison of various teaching approaches. 
Combined with monitoring the success of our graduates and the expectations of the practitioners who hire them, the policy ensures that the College will continue to produce graduates with the essential skills and knowledge needed to become competent, compassionate veterinarians.

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Hands-on Experience in the DVM Curriculum: Ensuring Clinical Competence

The limited amount of interaction with live animals in the first two years of the veterinary program has been a point of student dissatisfaction for years. Students who welcomed the first-year physiology laboratories as a chance for hands-on experience were disappointed by their cancellation. 

Given that the purpose of the physiology laboratories was to convey concepts of normal function, not to teach clinical skills, and given that most other veterinary schools do not include similar laboratories, it’s clear that eliminating them should not impact the clinical abilities of our graduates. 

The entire third and fourth years of the veterinary curriculum are devoted to developing surgical and medical skills. In addition, many volunteer opportunities are available to underclassmen for gaining clinically relevant experience beyond experiences they arrange for summers and semester breaks.

Community Practice Service: Assist Dr. Kent Davis and fourth-year students with routine veterinary cases in the teaching hospital. 

Wildlife Medical Clinic: Work in medical teams to provide care to the more than 1,500 injured or abandoned wild animals brought to the WMC each year.

Champaign County Humane Society:  Assist with routine health care on weekends.

Foal Watch/Colic Watch/Emergency Service: Spend time observing clinicians and helping in any of several specialty areas of the hospital.

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New Interest in Veterinary Ethics at Illinois

Are veterinary ethics evolving? How are those ethics expressed in the veterinary curriculum? In what way, if any, should public opinion affect veterinary education? How can veterinarians help shape public opinion and take a stronger role in animal ethical issues?

The strong public reaction to the terminal physiology laboratories has left many in the College struggling with questions like these. Some within the profession wonder whether the non-veterinarians who felt qualified to denounce the laboratories are equally concerned with the fate of the millions of abandoned pets euthanatized each year or with the conditions of animals used for their meat supply. 

How can the profession best communicate with the public to bring a balanced view of the role of animals in society? And how can the profession ensure that its own practices are ethical? 

Last fall Dr. Gerald Pijanowski, associate dean for academic and student affairs, and second-year student Jay Thurgood took a step toward confronting these issues when they attended the Veterinary Bioethics Conference at Tuskegee University. Their trip yielded two results that have particular significance given the recent debates in the College over animal use in teaching.

Thurgood decided to start a new student organization devoted to promoting professional development by sharing views on veterinary ethics as well as animal ethics. Three dozen people attended the organizational meeting of the Society for Animal and Veterinary Ethics (SAVE) club to elect officers and adopt a mission statement.

The club’s first official meeting, on February 15, addressed a topical issue on the Urbana campus: the poisoning of starlings at the University’s dairy farm. Students researched the issues and presented facts about the hazards starlings pose to the dairy operation, the safety for other species of the poison used, the role of starlings in displacing native bird species, and the impact of the poisonings on the student-run Wildlife Medical Clinic.

Another outgrowth of the Tuskegee trip brings to campus Dr. Bernard Rollins, an ethicist at Colorado State University who has taught and published widely on veterinary and animal ethics. The College and the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association jointly sponsored a March visit from Dr. Rollins.

Activities like these are increasing awareness and better integrating ethical issues into the educational experience at Illinois.

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