Madeleine Pickens’ recent decision to withdraw $5 million from the Oklahoma State University veterinary school due to animal use practices she described as "barbaric” has reignited debate over how animals are used in veterinary training. While we agree with W. Ron DeHaven, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Opinion, March 1) that live animal use is integral to veterinary training, we disagree that animals must be harmed or killed in order to graduate competent veterinarians. There is a more humane option, and significant progress is being made in this direction.
A survey of the 28 U.S. veterinary schools conducted in 2007 found that at least half of the schools had dropped terminal surgeries from their required curriculum. (Oklahoma State did not respond to this survey.)
On a more personal note, a few years ago I heard an Ohio State University surgery professor say at a conference that Ohio State no longer includes terminal procedures in its curriculum because of students, myself among them, who promoted humane surgical training.
How are vet schools implementing humane veterinary training? In addition to using a variety of technological innovations, schools are using animals, but doing so in ways that benefit the animal while also providing training opportunities for students.
Today, the majority of veterinary schools have established partnerships with local animal rescue organizations to provide spay and neuter services for homeless animals. This gives the students training in surgical, anesthetic and recovery skills and offers the animals a better chance of finding a home. For example, Mississippi State University now provides its students with extensive surgery experience. Its students graduate having performed an average of 50 beneficial surgeries.
Some schools have gone beyond the standard spay and neuter programs to include other medically necessary procedures for animals in rescue, such as fracture and wound repair. Other options include shelter medicine rotations, externships at veterinary clinics and hospitals, participation in spay and neuter clinics in the community, field services opportunities and the use of cadavers for surgery labs.
The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is actively promoting humane veterinary training on several fronts.