Using animals for invasive teaching purposes is unethical. Subjecting animals to high impact teaching methods to teach vet students the skills needed to save animals lives, is beyond unethical, it's a contradiction of itself. An oxymoron.
Animal replacement methods to teach veterinarian students already exist and like most other forms of technology, they are always improving. These methods include:
For example the Cat Spay Mannequin. This has the anatomical features required to teach students the surgical procedure and techniques of spaying a cat including final sutures.
For example the Haptic Cow Virtual Reality Simulator. This creates a 3D, computer-generated simulation that replicates the anatomical structure of a cow through the sense of touch.
For example the Koken Rat Model. This is a life-like model made from plastics and silicone. It can be used to teach students correct handling methods, peroral feeding, tail vein injection, blood collection, and orotracheal intubations.
For example 3D Dog Anatomy Software. This a virtual programme that is used to give vet students an insight into dog anatomy.
Prof. Andrew Knight gives an excellent review of ethical teaching methods for vet students in his paper titled The Potential of Humane Teaching Methods within Veterinary and Other Biomedical Education. We highly recommend reading this here.
The Benefits of Using Ethical Teaching Methods
By using ethical and alternative methods of using animals in harmful ways in veterinarian training, institutes are:
- Choosing a more ethical option that doesn't harm any animals. Over 30,000 animals were used in NZ for teaching purposes in 2016 alone. We can't currently determine how many of these animals were used for veterinarian training but the fact remains — thousands of animals are used for teaching purposes when there are plenty viable and ethical alternatives that could be embraced instead.
This could also decrease the risk of future vets becoming desensitized to animals being in pain or discomfort, as highlighted by Prof. Andrew Knight:
"Student participation in harmful animal use appears to contribute to a range of desensitization-related phenomena, which adversely affect awareness of animal welfare problems and the desire to take appropriate action to redress them. Such adverse attitudinal impacts have the potential to decrease the ability of veterinarians to safeguard and promote good welfare for their patients and animals generally."
- Increasing (or maintaining) academic outcome by providing for different learning styles and allowing students to repeat exercises to consolidate learning.
Approximately 90% of published educational evaluations have shown that students being taught with ethical teaching methods achieved the same or better learning outcomes than using live animals.1
- Creating a more inclusive and safer learning environment where students won't feel ethically and emotionally challenged by harming animals. The psychological and emotional risks can be decreased as stated by Prof. Andrew Knight:
"For many students, participation in harmful live animal use, such as that occurring in physiology demonstration or surgical training laboratories, generates powerful emotional experiences and high levels of stress. These have considerable potential to adversely affect cognitive processes such as learning".
Any method that has the potential to decrease psychological and emotional risk to these students should be considered. Especially when students are training to go into a high-stress job such as becoming a veterinarian. Sources of stress for veterinary students may be different from those experienced by established veterinarians, but any chance of lowering emotional distress for these students should be a priority.
The physical risk to students themselves could also lessen. Animal-based methods sometimes include the use of highly toxic chemicals (i.e. the chemicals used for preserving specimens are usually toxic).1
An example of alternative methods being used in NZ to train vets has recently featured on national news — Massey University is using mannequins to teach vets students! Read more here.
Non-harmful teaching methods are being adopted around the world. According to NEAVS "there are no veterinary colleges in Canada that conduct terminal surgeries, and in the U.S. 50% of veterinary schools no longer require terminal labs as part of the student curriculum."
A prominent example of where alternatives are being used and are setting a standard for the whole world to follow is in Saint Kitts at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM). Here an ethical clinical training laboratory (CSL) has been set up to train future vets without using invasive procedures involving live animals. A recent publication by Prof. Andrew Knight has outlined what was involved in setting this laboratory up, running it and growing its teaching scope to include a wider range of surgical, medical and other clinical skills.
This CSL is showing promising results as demonstrated by the positive feedback received from students — A survey showed that 95% of students felt that CSL had improved their psychomotor skills! This emphasises that when alternatives are used instead of live animals for training vet students, the same academic outcome can be reached or even exceeded. Read the full report here.
The aim of the veterinary industry is to help animals, therefore it is hypocritical and unjust to make these future veterinarians harm or sacrifice certain animals so they can learn to help others. The veterinary industry needs to end the use of live animals for training vet students so that it can live up to its purpose of protecting animal welfare and alleviating animal suffering. After all, that is why veterinary students want to become vets.
 Knight A. The potential of humane teaching methods within veterinary and other biomedical education. ALTEX Proc 2012; 1: 365-375.