Walking into the clinical skills lab at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, you’re immediately struck by the sight of lifelike horse heads and legs protruding from the room’s walls. At each station, two or three students listen intently as a faculty member expertly illustrates the day’s lesson.
Near the centre of the room, students use a model of a dog’s hind limb to place an Ehmer sling, a figure-eight dressing that reduces movement by raising the injured leg off the ground, preventing further injury to the patient.
Getting the sling to wrap around the patient just right can be tricky, but that’s why the lab exists. Here, students can practice their bandaging skills and other techniques on life-size simulators. In the room next to this one, surgery is underway on several sheep, as seventh-semester students learn to anesthetize patients under the supervision of faculty members.
“These students are learning real-life anesthesia scenarios,” says the university’s dean, Sean Callanan, MVB, MRCVS, CertVR, PhD, DipECVP, FRCPath. “These are quite intensive labs, as you can imagine. This is how students pick up all of their hands-on experience.”
Combatting compassion fatigue and burnout
Located on the west side of St. Kitts, Ross University hugs the island’s coastline, the calm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea serving as a backdrop to a school that has graduated more than 5,000 veterinarians since its founding in 1982. In addition to a DVM program, Ross offers postgraduate and research studies. A certificate in One Health is the latest addition to its roster of programs.
The clinical skills lab is one of the main stops on our visit to the campus, which coincides with the West Indies Veterinary Conference (WIVC), the school’s four-day CE event held in early November that woos alumni back to the island.
As Ross’s dean for the past three years, Dr. Callanan is tasked with ensuring its students—about 1000 at any given time—graduate not just with knowledge of veterinary medicine, but with tools to deal with the profession’s challenges. Reducing compassion fatigue and burnout is a priority for him.
The school recently launched its Thrive Wellness Palm, a program encompassing eight areas of life on campus: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. Geared toward students, faculty, staff, and administration, Thrive emphasizes the significance of total health—mind and body. The goal is to create an app so students can track their own wellness.
“It’s another step around talking about wellness and the fact that it’s okay to not be okay,” he tells Veterinary Practice News Canada, the sole media outlet invited to attend the conference. “The app will allow people to start thinking about how they may be doing well on physical, for example, but they aren’t paying attention to their emotional or interactions with other people.”
The importance of maintaining well-being in a profession that struggles to achieve it was the focus of several seminars at WIVC, held at St. Kitts Marriott Resort on the other side of the island. One Health, a special focus of Ross University, was the subject of the keynote address, delivered by Stuart Reid, BVMS, PhD, DVM, DipECVPH, FRSE, MRCVS, principal of the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. An expert in zoonotic disease and antimicrobial resistance, Dr. Reid highlighted the importance of One Health to veterinary medicine, particularly as it relates to companion animals.
“Veterinarians are all trained scientists, and sometimes, I think we forget that,” he tells Veterinary Practice News Canada ahead of his address. “It’s about how we use our skills on the different levels that allow you to make change. For example, that might [relate to] the elimination of rabies in children from dog bites, so [One Health] is not just about food animal [safety]. It’s about that broad context of how do we have an impact.”
He compares One Health to combating climate change. “We need the big consuming countries to do something about it, but each and every one of us has a role to play in that. It’s about changing the way we behave… One Health is usually about trying to look at the bigger picture, but acting locally.”
Where formal education meets CE
Judging by the high attendance in some of the sessions, the importance of CE to certain disciplines is obvious, dentistry being one of them.
“Dentistry is a challenging field. Even if you get a fair amount of dentistry in school, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” says Wade Gingerich, DVM, DAVDC, whose presentations and wet labs focused on canine and feline dental extractions.
According to Dr. Gingerich, dentistry poses a unique concern in that signs of discomfort and pain in animals aren’t always apparent.
“If something is not done correctly, we may not even know it,” he says. “That sometimes keeps us from forcing veterinarians to do a really good job. There aren’t a bunch of people out there doing bad knee surgeries because [the results] are obvious. You either do a good job and the dog can walk or you’re not going to keep doing it.”
Mike Robbins, DVM, residency trained in clinical nutrition and working on board certification, presented several nutrition-focused sessions. He says diet is another area of pet health requiring a stronger foundation when it comes to formal education.
“There are few veterinary colleges that have a true nutrition program or even a boarded nutritionist on staff,” he says. “It’s my opinion that students and veterinarians who did not have a dedicated program have a harder time discussing nutrition with clients.”
Callanan sees the issue from a different perspective. “Nutrition is not about proteins and amino acids,” he says. “It’s about new products… which ones are good for kidney disease or liver disease. The idea that someone is ready to talk about nutrition once they graduate is not the case and it shouldn’t be the case.”
Ross University is working in other ways to prepare the next generation of veterinarians through its Veterinary Preparatory (Vet Prep) program, which sees 40 to 50 students each semester. Vet Prep is reserved for students who, for one reason or another, do not meet the criteria for admission into the DVM program. In some cases, they come to veterinary medicine after having worked as a veterinary technician, for example, but need to strengthen their basic sciences before beginning their DVM studies.
“What we found is this group settles in much better here,” Callanan says, adding many graduates of the program have gone on to receive dean’s awards. “They never like going into the program because they feel they didn’t [make the cut for veterinary medicine], but they’ll always tell you afterward, it was the best thing that ever happened to them.”