The model animal welfare curriculum the AVMA has designed as a resource for veterinary colleges will soon be scheduled for publication in JAVMA. Its development has been part of a broader, international effort to increase animal welfare coverage in the curriculum, noted Dr. Gail Golab, AVMA chief advocacy and public policy officer, at an Aug. 6 session during AVMA Convention 2016 in San Antonio.
Why is an animal welfare curriculum needed? The AVMA Council on Education's curriculum Standard 9 states that a veterinary college, to be accredited, must provide the “knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, aptitudes and behaviors necessary to address responsibly the health and well-being of animals in the context of ever-changing societal expectations.”
Dr. Golab projected three photos, of an English Bulldog, a performance horse in rollkur, and a cow enjoying the benefits of a cattle brush. Each illustrates a facet of animal welfare that students may not know about if not included in their college’s coursework, she said.
Breeding dogs for extreme physical characteristics (e.g., brachycephaly, excessively wrinkled skin, sloping stance)has led to a multitude of health issues, Dr. Golab said, and rollkur, or extreme hyperflexion of a horse’s neck during equestrianism, is an international welfare controversy of which students should be aware.
As for the cattle brush, Dr. Golab said, “Here’s an example of an enrichment that brings benefits to the animal as well as to the producer.” The brush creates cow comfort while helping control parasites and enhancing productivity.
Work began on the model animal welfare curriculum back in 2010. An AVMA Model Animal Welfare Curriculum Planning Group was convened the following year to address gaps in animal welfare education for veterinary students. Multidisciplinary content experts from around the world served on the group along with representatives from three key stakeholder groups: the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, Canadian VMA, and Department of Agriculture. Co-chairs were Drs. Linda Lord of The Ohio State University and Suzanne Millman of Iowa State University.
Collaborating with the stakeholder groups were the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, Animal Welfare Committee, and Federation of Veterinarians of Europe.
The group first conducted a needs analysis by surveying U.S., Canadian, and Caribbean veterinary colleges. Among other things, it found that 62 percent offered animal welfare theory and science, and 92 percent had it as a core topic. Of concern: A mere 46 percent evaluated students’ competence in animal welfare, a fact borne out by other studies. That evaluative element is critical. Lack of assessment sends a message that animal welfare isn’t a serious subject. Dr. Golab acknowledged that faculty often find it difficult to assess students’ animal welfare knowledge.
As charged, the curriculum group also formulated a philosophy statement for animal welfare–related instruction, creating a framework for day one competence that encompasses core knowledge and core skills, and factoring in “adoptability and adaptability” through conventional instruction and problem-based learning.
Key components of the model curriculum are a theoretical framework, scientific concepts, a sociological component, and assessment techniques as well as awareness of contemporary issues and veterinary roles.
In a later interview, Dr. Golab said core knowledge is “the theory piece,” and for each core knowledge topic, there is a competence or measurement objective.
The second part of the equation is skills, along with assessing whether students are able to apply those skills.
“So on both core knowledge and skills, there’s assessment. That’s the heart of the project,” she said, adding, “It’s incredibly important it be practically applied,” rather than relegating animal welfare to a philosophical discussion.
To assess the factual basis of core knowledge, she suggested written tests, case studies, practical exams, and relevant assignments such as literature searches. To assess practical application of knowledge, she suggested assisting in resolution of clinical cases and participating in the intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest, an AVMA-managed event at which students use science-based methods and reasoning. The Ohio State University is hosting the next one, Nov. 12-13. To assess skills, she suggested case studies, role playing, and case scenarios.
Although animal welfare is a core requirement for AVMA COE accreditation, Dr. Golab said there is no requirement to teach a separate class. Faculty can use the curriculum as an entire course or incorporate pieces of it.
“It’s totally possible to integrate this into a school’s existing curriculum,” she said. As an example, she said a veterinary school could integrate into a spay-neuter surgery exercise discussions about the welfare implications of neutering and how to determine the best time to neuter animals.
The paper co-authored by Drs. Lord and Millman et al that will be published in JAVMA describes the model curriculum, with the curriculum itself appearing in the appendix. The AVMA will work with a variety of stakeholders to encourage colleges to adopt the model welfare curriculum.
“My hope is people will see this as an effective way to better position veterinarians as leaders in animal welfare,” Dr. Golab said. “Adoption will absolutely require a collaborative effort.”