Anatomy of growth

Photo: Mark Fineman, first-year veterinary student, holds a horse skull in an osteology lab. (Photo by Becky Phillips, WSU Today).

Veterinarians are an inventive bunch. Faced with unforeseen circumstances nearly every working day, they become adept at adapting. Such is the case with those running the 60-year-old veterinary anatomy teaching lab located in McCoy Hall.

In 2003, Oregon State University terminated its regional veterinary education partnership, thereby removing 63 students from the WSU veterinary program. To compensate, the Washington Legislature provided funding to accept more students. As a side effect, the number of students trying to squeeze into the aging, crowded vet anatomy lab significantly increased.

Though there are long-range plans to replace McCoy with a veterinary education center, there were no immediate options for remodeling, according to Bryan Slinker, professor and chair in veterinary comparative anatomy, pharmacology and physiology (VCAPP). It was also not practical to simply divide the lab class into two sections.

To accommodate the extra students, course directors were forced to be creative.

Photo: Students take turns in osteology lab in McCoy Hall. (Photo by Becky Phillips).

Divide and accomplish
Leslie Sprunger, assistant professor in VCAPP, directs the small-animal anatomy course in the fall. With a team of five other faculty, she taught three-hour labs five days a week. Due to space limitations, she rearranged the course into four, four-hour labs a week.
She further divided each lab into sub-blocks of 2 1/2 hours and 1 1/2 hours each. And she incorporated new concepts and exercises into her curriculum. For example:

• In the first sub-block, half of the class completes the daily cadaver dissection. The other half comes in for the second sub-block to study the first group’s dissection. This reduces the number of cadavers needed by half.

• One student from the first sub-block stays behind to give a short, informal overview on the day’s work to help orient the second sub-block students. That student is given feedback on how clearly he/she presents the material, according to a rubric grid that Sprunger developed.

The students enter their feedback into a computer system using handheld wireless keypads called “clickers.” The results come out as a spreadsheet, which is sent to presenters for their own assessment.

Professional training
“This type of peer feedback early on in the veterinary curriculum helps increase nontechnical competencies — such as leadership, professionalism and communication,” said Sprunger. “The idea is to help develop the students’ communication skills by giving them a chance to use professional vocabulary — and gain constructive criticism on the process.”
Sprunger also incorporates professionalism by having the students fill out charts on their dissections. The cadavers are then rotated among dissecting groups.

“Again, this becomes a chance to familiarize students with medical team concepts like accurate record keeping and communication,” she said. “Each dissection specimen becomes a collective resource for the entire class, so it encourages shared responsibility and better care of the cadavers.

“On a larger scale, I think some of these ideas are relevant to those being promoted by the university — like the six learning goals listed by the Office of Undergraduate Education. Critical thinking, communication, the concept of self in society are all important parts of this learning process,” said Sprunger.

Creative, innovative
Marc Ratzlaff, professor in VCAPP, directs the large-animal anatomy team in the spring. Because he uses larger cadavers, he divided his lab into dissection groups of 10 students each. They also have adapted their teaching to meet the needs of the class:

 • During each lab, four students rotate out — working on complementary assignments such as observing live horses and cows or studying specimens in the Worthman Anatomy Teaching Museum in Wegner Hall. All students are required to come to the lab for the first 20 minutes and must participate in scheduled discussions covering academic and clinical topics.

• Ratzlaff and his team wrote the lab dissection guides, adapting them to their program. Students keep dissection records but are given anonymous identification, hopefully encouraging them to be more open in their record keeping.

“Overall, the faculty have done a good job of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” said Slinker. “They have been pretty creative in improving their teaching.”

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