Veterinary education constantly evolving

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Veterinary education has evolved with the changing times and will continue to do so to remain relevant, according to speakers at a daylong session on the topic Aug. 4 during the AVMA Annual Convention.

“Veterinary Medical Education in a Global Environment” was organized by the AVMA Committee on International Veterinary Affairs and sponsored by the 31st World Veterinary Conference.

Dr. Donald F. Smith, former dean of veterinary medicine at Cornell University, spoke about four eras of veterinary medicine in the United States: the dominance of the horse and ties to human medicine (1850-1920); the land-grant system with its focus on agriculture and public health (1890-1960); companion animal medicine, clinical specialties, and women veterinarians (1960 to present); and biomedical research, information technology, and the re-emergence of zoonotic diseases (1980-2000).

AVMA convention attendees listen to Dr. Deborah Kochevar, dean of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, speak about recent trends in veterinary education. (Photo by Matt Alexandre/Robb Cohen Photography)

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts for the profession came in the 1920s. The veterinary profession nearly collapsed as the horse was replaced by the automobile as the dominant mode of transportation. As a result, veterinary schools moved from the cities to the country with the land-grant colleges and focused on rural livestock and public health. When this happened, the veterinary schools separated from medical schools and comparative medicine, Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Deborah Kochevar, dean of the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, talked about changes in veterinary education within the past decade or so.

She noted that, even in this relatively short period, the craft of veterinary education has changed immeasurably, and she cited examples such as outcomes assessment, tools of the trade, the learning environment, and even the students and educators themselves.

Previously, a traditional, instructor-centered lecture with a PowerPoint presentation would be given to prepare students for an examination. Now, the trend is to use a blended education delivery system, which places less importance on having an instructor convey all the educational content, in favor of emphasizing multiple methods for students to obtain information.

“We all learn differently, so now we’ve come from a curriculum that comes from ‘telling’ to a multimodal one taken at a pace where you demonstrate mastery and move on. Is that an ideal outcome?” Dr. Kochevar asked. “Education specialists say it would be a good thing. We have more evolution to go.”

Part of the future of veterinary education may involve greater use of online resources, according to Dr. Julie A. Funk, director of the online professional Masters of Science in Food Safety program at Michigan State University.

She cited the Babson 2011 Survey of Online Learning that found the number of students enrolled in at least one online course increased from 1.6 million in 2002 to 6.1 million in 2010.

Dr. Funk lauded the growing popularity of sites that provide online courses that are free and open to anyone. Examples are the Khan Academy, Udacity, and Coursera. Some of these sites allow users to create student groups or offer to send resumes of top-performing users to potential employers.

“It’s becoming a real movement in online education,” Dr. Funk said.