Greater push for hands-on learning at SGU

Published on June 15, 2011
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Proper dog restraint in a clinical setting
A veterinary professor instructs students
how to properly restrain a dog in a clinical setting.

St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine has revamped its curriculum in the past year so that now, from day one, basic science classes are combined with instruction in clinical skills. A simulation laboratory with human and animal mannequins, along with case-based teaching, are major components of the new format. Students learn to apply information taught in class back to the animal, whether through simulation or practice on live animals, said Dr. Lisa Lunn, associate professor and director of the Large Animal Medicine & Surgery Academic Program. Here is a term-by-term breakdown:

  • Term one: Students learn basic clinical skills in a three-week short course held in the simulation laboratory. On the first day, students learn to auscultate, calculate heart rate, and differentiate between normal and abnormal sounds. For the remainder of the course, students are in the lecture hall learning the principles of performing proper basic physical examinations on the three species that they are to be working on. They also learn about relevant breed information, farm terminology, and veterinary terminology. Basic restraint and handling are emphasized.
  • Term two: Students start to combine what they are taught in the classroom with what they learn in the laboratory. In small animal anatomy, for instance, they learn about cranial nerves and how to conduct a neurologic examination. They use the simulation laboratory to learn about auscultation of the heart and lungs and the various types and causes of cardiac murmurs. They are challenged to develop diagnostic skills, and begin the process of problem-based learning.
  • Term three: Students move on to large animal clinical skills. In the simulation laboratory, they use models to learn various injection-site techniques, proper needle disposal, and catheter placement. There's case-based teaching in bacteriology and virology classes. Along with simulation labs, students spend time at the Large Animal Resources Facility, expanding on techniques learned in the previous terms. Faculty expand on the basic physical examination to include cranial nerves, mammary gland evaluation, how to properly pass a stomach tube, rumen fluid analysis, lameness examination, and bandaging techniques.
  • Term four: Students learn anesthesia clinical skills in the simulation laboratory, including basic monitoring of patients, to prepare for third-year surgery laboratories in their fifth term.
  • Term five: Students begin third-year surgery and participate in work-ups on client-owned animals from the community before performing ovariohysterectomies and orchiectomies.
  • Term six: Students go on rotations. They spend much of their time at the Small Animal Clinic, where they interact with clients and write assessment plans and discharge orders under faculty supervision. There are also ambulatory, necropsy, clinical pathology, and parasitology rotations.

By the time students are ready to transfer to their school of choice for their fourth year, Dr. Lunn said, the hope is that they can transition smoothly.

"The only thing different for them is just geography," she said.

Dr. Rolf Larsen, associate dean of clinical resources, said although it depends on the spaces available and whether the students meet the criteria, they usually get the first choice out of their top three options.

It's typical for veterinary schools and colleges to have classes of about 100 students but still have 20 to 30 open spots in the fourth year. These institutions, interested in having students pay tuition to fill these spots, jump at the opportunity afforded by SGU, he said. St. George's supplies about 120 students a year to the schools and their veterinary teaching hospitals.

Malinda Larkin