COVID-19 provides challenges to veterinary expertise training

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Kathy Koar, director of veterinary medicine at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Is constantly asking her students for feedback on virtual learning. (Photos courtesy of Kathy Koar)

Veterinary technology education programs in the United States are all very different, said Kathy Koar, director of veterinary medicine at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Adapting to a pandemic therefore requires a different game plan for each program.

COVID-19-related social distancing and safety measures have forced veterinary technology programs to reevaluate the way students are educated. There are already over 10 distance learning programs in existence that have been accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Training and Activities. Most programs, however, are personal and had to quickly adapt their curricula to a virtual learning format.

For example, Harcum College, a two-year private college of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, had to make changes to its clinical rotations due to its partnership with Penn Vet.

“We’re their veterinary nurse arm,” Koar said. “The university doesn’t have a vet program, they have us. Our students – each of them – spend two semesters at Penn Vet on clinical rotations. When COVID happened, the university sent students home. The piece was a sitting and waiting. “

Koar said clinical rotations are currently functioning normally, but all lectures are virtual. The laboratories are live and personal with personal protective equipment, reduced class sizes, and social distancing.

“It was an adaptation for the kids,” Koar said. “We were there 100% live. There was a tremendous learning curve for me and the faculty. “

According to Koar, Harcum College, especially the information technology department and curriculum committees, have been critical to helping the veterinary faculty and staff make the move to online training. She said the Association of Veterinary Technician Educators also offered a tremendous amount of support.

Todd Von Deak, executive director of AVTE, said the educators rose to the challenge of teaching during a pandemic.

“The pandemic and the place where people had to work virtually are taking so many educators away from what they’re passionate about: personal interactions,” he said. “It was an elevator for everyone to reuse and upgrade.”

AVTE has hosted programs and webinars where educators can ask questions, discuss best practices, and share what has worked for them.

Dr. Erin Kelly Snyder, coordinator of the veterinary technology program at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, said when she stepped in the role in January, she couldn’t have imagined the pandemic or the challenges it would bring.

Kathy Koar's virtual classroom on her computer screenKathy Koar, director of veterinary medicine at Harcum College, said adjusting to a pandemic will require adjustments from students and faculty.

“There were some challenges involved in being a linear program,” said Dr. Snyder. “We are a very practical program, we don’t roll (admissions) and we don’t offer (all) courses every semester.”

Dr. Snyder said the pandemic exposed some weaknesses in the program and the students had problems.

“Some have rolled with the punches, but it’s daunting and we need to figure out how to motivate our students. It was a challenge to keep them focused on the goals, ”said Dr. Snyder. “This year has been a breeze for all of us.”

Dr. However, Snyder is working to keep the students busy, especially the students who are missing out on personal labs due to possible exposure to COVID-19 and the need for quarantine.

“If they have been exposed, if they are sick, they are out for 10 days. You cannot be punished. So I’m teaching clinical pathology, and the students signed up and heard the lab lecture. Then I use a camera and walk through the lab with this student, ”she said. “We offer alternative teaching methods – extra time to create materials and do human makeup labs – and it gets exhausting. But I won’t let the students hang in the wind. I want you to have the experience. “

Dr. Snyder said the program is focused on his current cohort and due to some canceled courses in the summer, the class scheduled to graduate in May will likely not meet its graduation requirements until the fall.

Koar said everything will work out.

“That’s how teachers are,” she said. “Teachers spend their entire lives spinning. Some things work, some don’t. They keep changing. One thing that helps me is to keep asking students for their feedback. “How can we support you better? What can we do better? ‘”

Koar believes the faculty, staff, and students will be more resilient after these challenges.

“There are always flowers in the weeds, and I think we’re better at that,” she said. “I’m interested to see how we will feel later when it comes to history and not today’s trauma.