September 01, 2010


 Veterinary schools have their pluses, minuses

Second NAVMEC meeting dissects, reconstructs them

Posted Aug. 18, 2010  

If there's one thing veterinarians and other stakeholders could agree on at the second meeting of the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium, it's this: There's more than one way to educate a veterinary student.

Attendees at the first NAVMEC meeting in February listen to a presenter.

The meeting, which took place April 29-May 1 in Kansas City, Mo., focused on analyzing seven existing veterinary education models and one new concept (see JAVMA, June 15, 2010). The approximately 160 attendees were charged with giving recommendations on how these models could be improved or changed to help equip future graduate veterinarians with the skills, knowledge, and competencies to meet the changing needs of society.

Before the work began, presenters touched on teaching methods and technologies that are potentially valuable in revamping veterinary education. These included the following:

  • Using hybrid instruction, which blends technology with person-to-person interaction.
  • Having outcomes assessments for acquisition of skills, knowledge, and aptitudes.
  • Expanding application of problem-based learning and case-reinforced learning.
  • Using technology to build collaboration among learning communities to empower learners and increase the flexibility of curricula, including integration of paraprofessionals.
  • Increasing the sharing of learning materials among veterinary schools and colleges, enabled by technology such as wikis and podcasts.

These presentations were followed by a rundown of the seven existing education models, including how they have been adapted to meet changing technologic, societal, and economic conditions.

Many demonstrated an increased emphasis on nonclinical skills and teamwork throughout the curriculum as well as a greater focus on integrating courses to form a more understandable curriculum and body of knowledge, i.e. learning in parallel, not in series. As part of this, some models have begun to expose students to animals and animal health outside the lecture hall starting during the first year.

Some of these same models had curriculums designed with "the end in mind," focusing on graduating veterinarians who have acquired the "day one" technical and nontechnical competencies for their selected career paths.

Additionally, a new conceptual model was presented and discussed. Its primary attributes were a streamlined preveterinary education, an accelerated veterinary curriculum that requires only three years, more exposure to underserved and nontraditional career opportunities, increased collaboration among colleges through the use of distance-learning technologies, and post-North American Veterinary Licensing Examination training and assessment in specialty areas.

The remaining time at the meeting was spent forming teams to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of, create improvement concepts for, and reconstruct the existing and conceptual education models. Each team then presented an overview of what improvements it made.

Looking at the faculty, some teams suggested placing greater value on teaching outcomes when evaluating the performance of faculty and colleges. However, concern was raised over whether emphasizing teaching even more would result in weakening the research role of colleges.

Other teams considered the students and proposed that applicants with "desirable" skills and aptitudes could be selected during the admissions process, although evidence from human medicine does not confirm the efficacy of this strategy.

Suggested improvements that appeared in multiple model evaluations were consideration of problem-based learning and learner-managed, self-paced delivery; more visibility on the importance of nonprivate practice areas of the profession; and greater integration of nontechnical and technical skills rather than considering them as distinct courses.

Practically all teams recommended that changes be implemented incrementally, suggesting that colleges would be unlikely to switch over to a new model in short order.

In the end, the conceptual model received the highest marks overall. Participants rated it highest in terms of taking into account diverse learning styles, employing innovative learning approaches to deliver the curriculum, using innovative technology to deliver the curriculum, and impacting the total time needed for a student to complete the veterinary degree.

"After reviewing these diverse veterinary education models, it became clear that once the foundational competencies of the veterinary graduate are clarified and finalized, multiple methods, approaches, and educational techniques will allow institutions to embed those competencies into the curriculum regardless of the model chosen," according to the meeting's executive summary.

"An outcomes orientation should also be implemented through which foundational competencies can be assessed, ensuring that graduates will be better prepared to face the multiple demands which society expects of the profession."