Creative Disruption columnist Dr. Bob Lester is the chief medical officer at WellHaven Pet Health, a former practice owner and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves on the boards of Pet Peace of Mind, WellHaven Pet Health and the Lincoln Memorial veterinary college. He is president-elect of the North American Veterinary Community.Read Articles Written by Bob Lester
The cynics among us might call academic innovation an oxymoron. In fact, I’ve heard it said that the only notable difference between the classrooms of 1923 and 2023 is the move from chalkboards to whiteboards. Not so fast! I’m encouraged to see significant innovation taking place in academia. That’s right, academia.
Veterinary academicians are among the most passionate and caring individuals in our profession. They dedicated their professional lives to readying the next generation for career success. Don’t forget that new graduates have never been expected to know as much as they are today, and the expectations are rising. Innovation is critical in times of rapid change.
Let’s look at a few innovative academic efforts at a college of veterinary medicine with which I’m acquainted, Lincoln Memorial University.
Training in leadership, communication and practice management is critical to the success of today’s veterinary graduates. At Lincoln Memorial, professional skills are taught throughout the first six of eight semesters and include extensive communication training, with dozens of mock exam room scenarios. Professional actors role-play encounters ranging from rapport-building and euthanasia to interactions with angry clients.
The professional skills training also includes leadership exercises, the development of a professional identity, personal budgets, student loan repayment planning and the fundamentals of practice management.
Don’t you wish you had comprehensive training in all those skills during your education? The coursework sets up graduates for professional success.
LMU’s clinical skills program, also taught across the first six semesters, provides hands-on practice on models, cadavers and live animals. Research by the college’s Center for Innovation in Veterinary Education and Technology hones the faculty’s teaching and assessment methods. Student competence is regularly checked.
We’ve come a long way from my days as a veterinary student when the first three years were spent seated in a dark lecture hall. Today’s students begin hands-on training from Day One.
Novel Educational Methods
Disruptors of traditional didactic lectures, LMU’s front-line clinical educators work to deliver veterinary education more effectively and efficiently. From smart classrooms and simulation labs to data-driven analysis and telehealth training, the learning technology is built into the college.
Technology can reduce the cost of education, deliver high-quality outcomes and attract a tech-enabled generation of new veterinary professionals.
Teaching to Teach
LMU’s master of veterinary education program, the only one of its kind in North America, is designed to help veterinarians become expert educators. MVEd students learn to translate their clinical experiences into teaching skills and learning strategies, becoming life-long learners through professional development, research and scholarship.
Teaching teachers to teach. Cool!
Expanding the Veterinary Technician’s Role
The master of veterinary clinical care is an LMU program for licensed veterinary technicians holding a baccalaureate degree. The MS program is the first in the United States explicitly designed to help technicians build on the knowledge and skills learned in their AVMA CVTEA-accredited programs. Graduates gain master-level expertise in case management, clinical and professional skills, and evidence-based medicine. The curriculum features courses co-instructed by DVMs and veterinary technician specialists.
The program creates a potential career ladder similar to what exists for human medicine nurses, hopefully enticing techs to stay in our profession.
Distributed Clinical Year
The distributed clinical year curriculum partners the College of Veterinary Medicine with qualified and trained affiliates to provide workplace-based training. The allies include diagnostic pathology laboratories, animal shelters, other veterinary colleges, research institutions, and private and specialty practices. Distributed, or community-based, educational models have been the norm in human health education for decades and are increasingly common in veterinary education.
Mutually beneficial partnerships between veterinary practice and academia can provide a more cost-effective teaching model. The model’s success becomes increasingly critical as traditional referral teaching hospitals struggle to remain fully staffed and financially solvent.
Lincoln Memorial heard the call for more veterinarians, launching a second class of students through a cohort starting in the spring. The move from 125 to 225 annual graduates will help shore up the need for more veterinary professionals and provide seats for qualified applicants now turned away.
Studies have shown that well-deserving and prepared applicants are routinely denied admission to veterinary school while the number of applicants continues to rise. The demand for veterinarians remains high, and we can’t wait to welcome new colleagues to our profession.
Team-Based Health Care
Plans are underway at LMU to form the Center for Veterinary Healthcare Team Optimization. The center will facilitate collaboration between the veterinary medical technology program, now housed within the college, and the DVM program, enabling all students to train side by side and teach them to deliver care through a team-based model.
What about the looming shortage of equine veterinarians? LMU’s answer is an undergraduate to professional degree path. The Equine Veterinary Education Program produces career-ready equine veterinarians after 6½ years of college. The first five semesters are spent completing an associate degree, preparing for veterinary college and participating in summer equine internships. In the DVM program, students complete equine electives, summer internships and 28 weeks of clinical rotations dedicated to equine medicine and surgery.
Who Says Academics Can’t Innovate?
Academic innovation isn’t unique to LMU. For example, Western University in California pioneered the distributed model 25 years ago, Texas Tech University created a clinical learning network, and the University of Arizona and Ross University built three-year DVM programs. All continue to innovate veterinary education.
Legacy schools have much to be proud of, of course. Many of us are products of that system and benefited tremendously from the training at our alma maters. Legacy schools are increasingly formalizing partnerships with well-regulated and trained affiliate workplaces. In other words, legacy schools are moving to include a distributed learning environment as part of their clinical training.
Like all things in life, change is inevitable. Academics are risking the discomfort of innovating rather than clinging to the status quo and risking irrelevance.
THE LAST WORD
I heard this quote recently: “Irrelevance happens when the speed of change outside an organization is greater than the speed of change inside an organization.” The rate of change outside the veterinary profession has never been greater. Academic institutions are stepping up, challenging the status quo and innovating to solve a number of our profession’s challenges. If academic institutions can innovate, so can we.