This pandemic year, teaching students in the UCalgary Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) hands-on program required some radical changes in approach. In the first part of a two-part series, we examine how DVM students are safely taught clinical skills in personal laboratories.
We asked Dr. Rebecca Archer, DVM, et al clinical trainer for small animal medicine in UCVMs Department of Veterinary Diagnostics and Clinical Science a couple of questions.
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Q: What challenges did you face in adapting clinical skills laboratories to COVID-19 protocols?
As COVID progressed, so too did the rules and guidelines. One of the hardest things to do was keeping up with these changes and changing logs as we got new information. While things have been stable for a while, in the beginning some decisions needed to be made quickly and changes needed to be made fairly frequently.
Q: What modifications were required?
First, we had to have fewer students in one lab at the same time. Instead of dividing the classes into two groups as before, we’re dividing them into three smaller groups to make it easier to have a two-meter distance between students. That meant that the laboratories had to be cut. While we originally planned for this change to take effect for our advanced class in the first year, responding to the pandemic meant we rolled out the plan immediately over every three years.
In our dog and cat labs, small groups of students still work together because you need someone to keep animals to work with. It was interesting to find out how to keep the temporal interaction low and the spacing reasonable. We have also introduced PPE that goes beyond university requirements. In addition to wearing a treatment mask in the labs, students also wear gloves and face shields, and either lab coats or overalls. We just feel like we’re making our students safer.
Q: How have the labs changed along with the changes made to keep students safe?
Between each laboratory everything has to be cleaned and the equipment changed for the next group. The teaching technicians only have half an hour between labs one and two, so it is a very quick process. When it comes to live animals, they need a break and the opportunity to take a toilet break and go for a bit of a walk.
Q: How difficult is it to reset everything with three labs a day?
You know what? The technicians are phenomenal. And the students are also helpful in tidying up. Everyone came together and realized that you don’t just run away at the end of the lab because there is still a lot to do. And we had to optimize the setup. We had a different timing of the labs earlier in the year and the technicians let us know they just couldn’t do it. A month later, we changed the lab timing to make it easier for everyone to make that change. But everyone is really helping to make it work.
Q: How do students in shortened labs learn the same amount that they used in longer labs?
Instead of doing live demonstrations and lectures in the laboratory with the students, a videographer had us create videos of our demos and our pre-laboratory lectures. That involved a lot of preplanning and a lot of walking around and organizing. The students observe these in advance before they come to the lab so that we still have enough time to cover all of the material within two hours. These changes were in the works for the first few years so much thought was given to best teaching practices. In short sessions, the lab focuses on practicing the skills without information overload!
Q: How have these changes affected the way you teach and how students learn?
It’s still six hours of class a day, but you do it three times instead of two. Even though you are technically teaching the same amount, it is a bit mentally demanding. And everyone had to get used to speaking louder or handling the microphone because gosh, it’s really hard to hear in a big lab with everyone in face shields and masks. So this is a challenge. We all probably need language lessons for projection.
But I think the things we’ve set up have some surprising advantages. After these program changes and the implementation of all COVID restrictions, we’ve had some nice achievements. Shorter laboratories are more in line with educational best practices. What we found is that our students actually keep things a little better. The fact that they must have seen all of the demos and the lecture outside the lab means they will come into the lab much better prepared.
Q: After all the exertion, is there some satisfaction when you’ve done this?
Oh yeah. There was a lot of pessimism about whether it was even possible when we started putting it together this year. But you know we did it. We’re almost at the end and I couldn’t be more proud of my team