Reflections on AVA 2012 part 2

Tuesday 22nd May was Education Day at the AVA Annual conference and continued the conference theme of sustainability. I attended all but one session and came away with a much better appreciation of the wonderful work happening in teaching and learning innovation and why some current practices will need to change. This post covers my impressions of the morning sessions and is not in any way an official review.

The sustainability of lectures in veterinary education – Dr Malcolm McLennan

I was particularly interested in this topic as I have recently blogged about it. Presenter Dr Malcolm McLennan has long had an interest in the role of lectures in veterinary education, having previously published on the topic (McLennan, MW and Heath, TJ (2000) The role of lectures in veterinary education. AusVetJ, 78:10 p. 702) and noted that despite the questionable value of lectures the percentage of time spent in lectures at UQ and Sydney University had not changed in recent years. He discussed some pros (e.g. inexpensive, easy to administer) and cons (e.g. instructor rather than student led, limited opportunity for interaction) of lectures. His approach is to upload the text before the session, avoid powerpoint completely and use music, humour and interaction over questions and a clinical problem during the class. Sounds much more engaging and memorable than some of the lectures I attended as a student!
The overall feeling was that lectures would persist as a form of instruction despite the limitations of the model.
I asked whether anyone was following the model of TED ed and others of videoing lectures in small bursts and using class time for interactivity, as is planned for the Stanford medical course according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine  but there was concern that not all students would prepare. After the session in a private discussion a lecturer told me that he had tried giving notes beforehand and very few read them, making the interactive session difficult. We discussed whether using video would make it more likely that students would prepare – it would be interesting to do a comparison. I also learnt that many lectures at the University of Adelaide are video recorded for students to review.

Problem-based learning (PBL) at the University of Adelaide – Dr Gail Anderson
Dr Gail Anderson discussed how a modified PBL (modified due to evidence that fully PBL courses can result in significant gaps in student knowledge) program has been integrated into the basic sciences curriculum. PBL, while not necessarily strengthening learning of the subject matter, does help develop real-world skills, such as collaboration and may strengthen recall.
Case structure
Predetermined groups of about eight (the size of many veterinary clinic teams) are given a problem which they work on for two hour sessions over three consecutive weeks. A trained tutor acts as a facilitator for 2-3 groups at a time and progressively discloses information. During the final session the groups develop a concept map of their work, an example of which was shown. The students than sit a short multiple choice test, first individually and then as a group to demonstrate to the students the power of collaboration. Finally there is a 20 minute debrief.
Listening to this description made me want to be a vet student all over again as it sounds like such a fun way to learn. I particularly liked the concept of having the students do the multiple choice tests individually and then collaboratively. I very much believe in the concept of showing rather than telling whenever possible in education and this a great example of putting it into practice.

Sustainability of the veterinary profession – Professor Rosanne Taylor

There are many challenges facing veterinary schools in Australia, including attracting high calibre students, a high number of veterinary schools per head of population and managing a diversified demand for expertise.
The cost of veterinary education is of major concern and will become unsustainable. Staff to student ratios are mandated so there is little scope for cost reduction in that area. There is significant competition for staff with a commensurate cost in salaries. Also raised was the question of whether there should be more emphasis on non-clinical areas such as business, research and public health knowledge as these are important for the sustainability of the profession as a whole.
Several alternatives for improving the sustainability of veterinary education were suggested including:
Reducing the number of graduates – this would go against the recent trend of opening more veterinary schools
Reducing the length of the veterinary degree through:
– streaming of students e.g. large or small animals
– selecting for students with large animal skills to save the time needed to teach these skills
– outsourcing teaching of clinical skills e.g. having an intern year with limited registration
All options would obviously have a significant impact and must be carefully considered before any action is taken.

Sustainable use of veterinary practices for outsourcing clinical training – Dr Peter Alexander


Dr Peter Alexander is a mixed practice veterinarian who has had students in his clinic for extramural training over many years. His enthusiasm for hosting students and his perceived gains in the areas of continuing education from the student knowledge and the cultural diversity they bring were clear to all. However, this was tempered by his concerns about the sustainability of the current system.

A system under pressure
With the increased number of veterinary students within Australia as well as a rising number of requests from veterinary students from other countries, clinics such as Peter’s are being overwhelmed with students seeking extramural placements. There are some limited benefits to the clinics in return for hosting students such as access to some university resources such as the library; however as Peter noted once you have these benefits through one veterinary school there is little to be gained from having such benefits from another school. There is little financial return to most practices from hosting students and in fact considerable costs in areas such as consumables due to student inexperience.
He presented a list of pros and cons of the current system and clearly feels that in the longer term the current model is not sustainable. He said that his contribution to veterinary science had been to help students develop clinical skills and he wanted to find a way to continue. I left the session thinking that the extramural clinic hosts are among the many unsung heroes of veterinary education.

Plenary: Political sustainability of the veterinary profession – Senator Chris Back
Senator Chris Back is a veterinarian and one of only five members of the upper house with a background in science. He contended in his plenary address that the veterinary profession needs to become much more visible and outspoken, particularly in matters related to animal and public health e.g. diseases crossing from animals into humans, if it is to remain viable and relevant and questioned whether the veterinary profession was like mushrooms hidden under the taller foliage. A quiet comment was made next to me in the audience that perhaps the fact that veterinary science tended to attract introverted personalities contributed to the low numbers going into more public roles. I had never considered this angle but the more I think about it the more it may have an element of truth.
The senator also expressed concern at the decreasing numbers of students entering agriculture at a time when food supply looms as a global issue.
The concern that the veterinary profession needs to attract more people into larger businesses, such as agribusiness, and public health was raised time and again during the week, which has been food for my thoughts as it is not an issue I had considered.

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About rebekahmcbrown

I am a veterinarian with a special interest in instructional design and developing eLearning in the veterinary and medical areas. I write teaching materials for both face-to-face and online learning as well as writing and editing articles.
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2 Responses to Reflections on AVA 2012 part 2

  1. TJ says:

    It appears apparent that the year of clinical rotations is outdated. A paid internship where the clinic has a financial incentive to develop the graduate seems far more appropriate. This also means that those wishing to delve into non-practice careers are not hampered by having to do rotations in areas not relevant to their career direction.

    As per post above the course isn’t advertised as one attracting those with good conversation skills and ultimately attracts people that want ‘to work with animals’.

    There are limited, low paying jobs for veterinarians in agriculture with poor hours and work-life balance. Positive incentives are needed. Intelligent individuals seeking agribusiness and public health roles are far better off doing shorter degrees (MBA, BSc/Master Public Health) rather than a 5-7 year veterinary degree. The degree needs to be shortened if vets are to move into these roles.

  2. Pingback: Decreasing time in the hole. The varying uses and abuses of the term “intern”. | Australian Veterinarian Network

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