Humane teaching methods

Animal use resulting in harm or death has historically played an integral role in veterinary education, in disciplines such as surgery, physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, and parasitology. However, the last decade has seen a rapid increase in the availability of non-harmful alternatives, such as computer simulations, high quality videos, ‘ethically-sourced cadavers’ such as those from animals euthanized for medical reasons, preserved specimens, models and surgical simulators, non-invasive self-experimentation and supervised clinical experiences.

Yet veterinary students seeking to use such methods often face strong opposition from faculty members, who usually cite concerns about their teaching efficacy. Consequently, this presentation reviews educational studies comparing learning outcomes of veterinary students generated by non-harmful teaching methods with those achieved by harmful animal use. 

Of eleven studies published from 1989 to 2006, nine assessed surgical training—historically the discipline involving greatest harmful animal use. 45.5% (5/11) demonstrated superior learning outcomes using more humane alternatives. 45.5% (5/11) demonstrated equivalent learning outcomes, and only one study (9.1%) demonstrated inferior learning outcomes using humane alternatives. 

Twenty nine additional studies in which comparison with harmful animal use did not occur illustrated other benefits of humane teaching methods in veterinary education, namely; time and cost savings, increased repeatability and flexibility of use, customization of the laboratory experience, more active learning, facilitation of autonomous and life-long learning, improved attitudes towards computers and alternatives to animal use, and increased employer perception of computer literacy.

The results indicate that veterinary educators can best serve their students and animals, while minimizing financial and time burdens upon their faculties, by introducing well-designed teaching methods not reliant upon harmful animal use. 

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