Vet school revamps curriculum

by Joe Carlson

It’s becoming an all-too-common paradox in higher education: The abstract academic exercises required in many courses, such as fact memorization and lecture absorption, do not fully prepare students for the daily activities of their professions.
But the College of Veterinary Medicine is working to change that.
In a vote earlier this month, veterinary faculty members approved a new curriculum that will begin this fall to increase both the specialization and practicality of veterinary education at the University.
“We’re trying to put the basic science skills to work within clinical application,” said Veterinary Curriculum Committee Member Alan Hunter, a professor in animal science. “It is a move away from basic passive lecturing and memorization, toward active learning.”
The new curriculum “is making more of a link between what you will do in your clinical years and what you do in your first few years (of college),” said Mickey Trent, associate dean for academic and student affairs at the veterinary college.
Students in the current veterinary curriculum are required to complete three years of classroom learning before they begin studying in a clinical atmosphere in their fourth year. Incoming students in fall 1997 will be the first class educated under the new system.
Curriculum for the first of the four years has been approved. If all goes well, the college will plan and approve curriculums for each consecutive year, one year at a time.
Many of the changes have been made to give students a more useful and practical education.
“We’ve reduced some of the sitting time when students have to sit in one place and listen to a single person,” Trent said, to provide for more independent study time and increase actual clinical exposure.
“What would you say to this client? How can you deal with this client who can’t pay?” are examples of more realistic questions Trent said the new curriculum will teach students to confront.
But some say the new curriculum may not have reached the goals originally set out in 1992 by faculty and administrators.
“One of the goals was the reduction of contact time to 25 hours a week (from the previous 28), but we weren’t able to reach that,” said Douglas Weiss, a professor in veterinary pathobiology. Contact time is hours students spend in the classroom with a professor.
“We wanted to free up that time for independent study,” Weiss said.
Another concern was the lack of faculty participation in the approval process. “My biggest concern is that 40 percent of the faculty chose not to vote,” Weiss said.
Veterinary faculty members were given until Jan. 6 to review and vote on the new curriculum, yet only 55 of the 92 did so. Trent said that 43 voted in favor.
Other critics question whether the new curriculum needs to be as radically revised as administrators insist. “As freshmen, we did go through problem-based learning,” said Deb Adams, a veterinary science senior. “We met in small groups and went over actual cases.”
Although the upcoming switch to semesters would have forced revisions, a number of other factors prompted the veterinary college to revise its curriculum, including a critical national report on shifting trends in the veterinary industry.
“The whole process was initiated by a review from a (national) group that looks at health care education,” Trent said.
The revision process began in 1992, in response to a 1988 report that criticized the effectiveness of veterinary education in the 27 veterinary colleges in the United States.
The report, entitled “Future Directions for Veterinary Medicine,” made a number of suggestions to improve the relevancy of college education to clinical veterinary employment. It cites shifting industry standards and outdated educational programs as reasons to overhaul curriculums.
“The traditional veterinary education process was set up in the ’50s, and was based on a time when one person was going to do everything,” Trent said. Today, “it’s almost economically impossible to run a single-person practice.”
The report called for colleges to “abandon the unrealistic concept of the universal veterinarian who can minister to the health needs of all creatures great and small.”
An explosion in scientific research and discovery has led to the current trend for larger groups of more specialized veterinarians to form practices in place of single-veterinarian clinics.
“There’s just too much to know,” Trent said.