MSU veterinary college ends nonsurvival surgeries

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Starting this fall, Michigan State University veterinary students beginning their surgical education will no longer train on dogs euthanized at the operation's end.

The College of Veterinary Medicine announced this March third-year students taking the introductory surgery course will learn on models, cadavers, organs, and limbs instead of living dogs.

The American Anti-Vivisection Society and other animal rights groups welcomed news of Michigan's veterinary college joining other veterinary teaching institutions that have already eliminated nonsurvival surgeries from their curricula.

Dr. Bryden J. Stanley, the assistant professor of surgery at MSU-CVM who recommended the course change, says the college's decision was not influenced by any criticism of the practice. Rather, the faculty believes the change will result in higher surgical competence among students.

"We think we're going to give students a better skills-based education by going to this revised course," Dr. Stanley said. "We can now do some additional procedures that the students wouldn't have done before, like amputation, enucleation, and splenectomy."

Nonsurvival surgeries limited what students did in the operating room, Dr. Stanley explained. For instance, only a third of the class would have a chance to do each specific procedure while the remainder either assisted or supervised anesthesia. Training on dog cadavers, organs, and limbs instead of live dogs will allow every student a chance to perform each procedure, she said.

"In the revised course, all students will get to do two to four intestinal resections and anastomoses on freshly harvested organs as opposed to live tissue," Dr. Stanley said. She understands working with cadavers isn't the same as operating on living tissue but thinks the benefits of practicing multiple procedures trump any perceived learning costs.

Students will continue using foam models as part of their surgical instruction and also spaying and neutering dogs and cats from local shelters and rescue organizations, and returning them for adoption, according to Dr. Stanley. The course, she added, is followed by up to three surgical rotations that include opportunities for students to operate on living, client-owned animals.

Every year since taking over the surgery course in 2003, Dr. Stanley has evaluated how the program could be improved and whether the number of dogs used in nonsurvival operations could be reduced. "No one likes euthanizing healthy animals," she acknowledged. Approximately 140 dogs were acquired from breeders and used in these procedures annually, she said.