New Simulation Lab Opens at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

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Learning Before Doing

Emily McCobbV00, VG02, clinical associate professor of anesthesiology, was an early champion of the simulation lab, and now she and Ariana Hinckley-Boltaxassistant professor of clinical skills, are among the first faculty members to incorporate the simulation lab into their coursework.

Hinckley-Boltax runs the year-long clinical skills courses required for all first- and second-year students, in which they learn “basically anything a veterinarian does with their hands,” she says, including how to put on a gown and gloves in a sterile environment, hold instruments, draw blood, place intravenous catheters, stitch a variety of sutures, perform CPR, give a general physical exam, conduct an ultrasound, and more.

“The approach is to create a positive learning environment for students that replicates real veterinary hospitals but where they can experiment, practice, get feedback, and work with their peers in a safe space,” says Hinckley-Boltax.

“The simulation lab will expose students to a clinical setting from their first year, and our hope is that this will make them more comfortable in the space,” says McCobb. “The first time they have to perform a procedure or surgery, it’s very stressful. Intangible things like being in a familiar space and knowing where the supplies and tools are help reduce that stress. Even the lights look the same as in the hospital operating room.”

McCobb works with third-year students during their required anesthesiology course and fourth-year students who take a surgical skills elective. In the anesthesia class, students practice in the simulation lab placing IV catheters in rubber canine forelimbs to improve their fine motor skills and establish muscle memory. The legs have little tubes in them to simulate the blood vessel the student must find and poke. By the end of their third year, students will repeat the procedure on a real dog.

“When a student is on their anesthesia rotation at the hospital, they need to place and tape the catheter the same way they learned it in the lab,” says McCobb. “As we teach students how we do these things in the hospital, there are opportunities to look at protocols, best practices, and standardization of techniques.”

Students are encouraged to work in the simulation laboratory outside of class time to practice on the models with their peers. It’s a great opportunity for feedback and for repetition, says Hinckley-Boltax.

“It’s basically a peer-assisted clinical-instruction model,” says Frank. “Students run labs on the weekends where they practice suturing and other procedures. Students who are further along in school teach the students in the class years below them. This is how we want the sim lab to be used outside of regularly scheduled classes.”

McCobb notes that while some veterinary students come to Cummings School with prior experience as a veterinary technician or nurse, the simulation lab can be particularly beneficial for students who do not have such experience. All students, regardless of prior experience, must perform a spay procedure on a model at the end of their second year and on a live dog or cat in their third year.