Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz did not expect that the veterinary colleges would go online as well as she did.
“If you’d asked me a month ago, ‘Would you be prepared? ‘I think I would have said I’m not sure, but boy was I so pleased,’ said Dr. Root Kustritz, Assistant Dean of Education at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. “We are ready to train our students and we are prepared as a profession.”
Dr. Root Kustritz is among the executives at veterinary colleges around the world facing the rapid development of alternative teaching methods for veterinary students practicing physical distancing to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Veterinary educators also seem optimistic that the students are on their way to graduation and are hopeful because everyone has come together.
“From now on we expect all of our students to be able to graduate on time. Now we are starting planning for the upcoming fourth grade, whose clinical training should begin in May, ”said Dr. Root Kustritz.
This is the personal setup for Veterinary Isolated Clinical Education Rounds by Dr. Alexander Fox-Alvarez, Associate Professor of Small Animal Surgery at the University of Florida Veterinary College; and Stacey Fox-Alvarez, Senior Medical Oncologist at UF Veterinary College. VICE Rounds is a volunteer, crowd-sourced continuing education resource that offers videos, video conferencing, and worksheets to facilitate student learning. (Courtesy Dr. Fox-Alvarez)
All U.S. veterinary colleges suspended face-to-face classes in late March, but most veterinary teaching hospitals and clinics remained open for urgent or urgent appointments.
Veterinary teaching hospitals have made other changes to appointments as well. For example, the staff at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Washington State University Veterinary College try to limit the number of people entering the facility.
“Customers are asked to wait in their car and only enter the hospital for limited periods of time and for specific purposes, access to bathrooms, make certain types of payments, and be present for euthanasia, etc.,” said Dr. Debra C. Sellon, the director of the teaching hospital and assistant dean for clinical services.
The veterinary clinic has been working without students since the end of March, but all interns and residents continue to work with their staff.
“Whenever possible, we offer work-at-home options to employees if they have special circumstances that make them concerned about being present in the workplace,” said Dr. Sellon.
Dr. Mark Markel, president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said the association is working to network and share resources.
“This is dramatically different from a single institution with a problem,” said Dr. Markel, who is also the Dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Veterinary Medicine. “There is a collective desire to do the best for our students.”
UW Veterinary Care closed on March 13 after it was found that an employee tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to a country with widespread coronavirus transmission.
This was the first case identified at the largest university in Wisconsin. UW Veterinary Care reopened on March 19 to treat current patients in need of ongoing treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and amino acid infusions, as well as medically necessary appointments for current patients and emergency services.
Although there were no recent cases by the end of March, the Veterinary Faculty of St. George University in Grenada, West Indies, and the Veterinary Faculty of Ross University in St. Kitts, West Indies had encouraged their international students to return home. Both locations remain open to students, faculty, and staff who choose to stay on the island.
Just keep learning
Veterinary colleges have been tasked with finding creative solutions for students of all levels. For the first to third year students, the transition to online lectures and virtual learning was easier.
For example, the Wisconsin Veterinary School made suture kits that students can take home to practice suturing patterns and knot tying. Students can then submit a video showing the faculty of their work.
However, for many fourth year students, going virtual is next to impossible, especially due to the graduation requirements that require hands-on clinical experience.
An Associate Professor of Small Animal Surgery at the University of Florida Veterinary College is working to help these students learn from a distance. Dr. Alexander Fox-Alvarez launched an online clinical round-robin format called Veterinary Isolated Clinical Education Rounds. VICE Rounds is a volunteer, crowd-sourced continuing education resource that offers videos, video conferencing, and worksheets to facilitate student learning.
Dr. Fox-Alvarez; Dr. Stacey Fox-Alvarez, a senior medical oncologist who lives at UF Veterinary College; and faculty members from other veterinary colleges have their own private YouTube channel for the presentations. The catalog was shared with educators from other veterinary colleges so that faculty can access the videos and make them available to students, he said.
The AVMA Council on Education, the accreditation body for veterinary colleges in the US and Canada, has given the veterinary colleges guidelines on the minimum requirements for one academic year of clinical practical training and affirmed that the colleges must demonstrate that students have achieved the nine clinical competencies. The AVMA COE has not changed the requirements for accreditation.
“The AVMA COE has … given us the flexibility we need to absolutely verify that the majority of fourth-year students have met all of the core requirements and demonstrated the necessary clinical skills,” said Dr. Root Kustritz about fourth year students at Minnesota’s Veterinary College.
For Alexandra Peters, a sophomore at the Atlantic Veterinary College at Prince Edward Island University, the response to COVID-19 escalated quickly.
She learned by email on March 13 that the university was planning to close for the semester after March 20, but two days later the veterinary school announced that it would close immediately. Peters intended to return to Pennsylvania after an investigation on March 19, but before she knew it there was talk of bridge and border closings.
“I’ve packed my whole life in half a day,” said Peter. “After the two-day drive, I drove to my parents’ house and was immediately notified that the US-Canada border was closed for unnecessary travel. I just made it back to the US. “
But that wouldn’t be the end of their stress.
“I had to keep studying for my last half,” said Peters. “It was difficult to focus on schoolwork with so much going on in the world. I want to know what’s going on and I want to be with my fellow human beings during these difficult times, but I also cannot forget my responsibilities as a veterinary student. “
Peters is currently self-isolating due to her trip, but she is still happy to be home and praised the work her professors do in keeping the students informed.
“Our professors really got things together in record time,” said Peters. “It’s been a great home and I’m exhausted, but it’s nice to be home and around my family while we endure it.”
Sharing is caring
Stories of veterinary college faculty members helping their peers in human medicine came out as the number of human cases of COVID-19 continued to rise in mid to late March.
Dr. Kathy Gerken, Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medcine, helped local emergency managers secure the transport of three ventilators and necessary disposables from Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital to East Alabama Medical Center, according to increased demand Treatment.
A March 23rd Facebook post from the Veterinary School said, “Our #OneHealth foundation is growing in importance as our doctors work with a variety of health, government and private sector organizations to help prevent this virus from spreading to combat and prevent and protect quality of life. “
After Matthew Aliota, PhD, assistant professor at Minnesota Veterinary College hibernated his Biosafety Level 3 laboratory, he donated 270 N95 masks to the University of Minnesota Human Hospital.
Dr. Aliota has also volunteered to reduce the backlog of COVID-19 test samples at a local microbiology laboratory, but has yet to be asked to do so.
He is concerned about the loss of research productivity in his lab and elsewhere, but adds, “It’s a lot bigger than that now. For me, it’s about protecting my people and not worrying too much. “
Dr. Markel says he’s grateful for the way people have reacted.
“Everyone stepped up,” said Dr. Markel.