“We call ourselves the guinea pigs,” says Alyssa Eslinger, one of 30 students in the in-augural class entering their final year of the four-year doctor of veterinary medicine program at the University of Calgary. The students are honing their veterinary skills through 40 weeks of practicum rotations in dozens of different private and public veterinary clinics and animal industry agencies – a partnership called the Distributed Veterinary Learning Community.
It’s a new way of educating veterinarians, says the dean of the faculty of veterinary medicine Alastair Cribb. Unlike other vet schools in Canada, U of C relies completely on a community-based teaching model rather than an on-campus veterinary teaching hospital. “Academic teaching hospitals have been the norm for a number of years,” says Dr. Cribb. “But over time, all veterinary colleges have started to do more and more with their communities.”
By going into the community, “students get exposure to and trained in dealing with the types of things that you actually do as a practising veterinarian,” he says. An added bonus for students is being able to see the business side of running a veterinary practice.
Students experience everything – ranches, specialized equine practices, exotic zoo animals as well as plenty of cats and dogs – during their 40 weeks of rotations. Half that time is spent in mandatory rotations: four weeks each of food animal, small animal and equine medicine and surgery; four weeks of laboratory diagnostics; and four weeks of rural community practice.
“It takes about the first week before you start to settle in,” says Ms. Eslinger, who was mortified during her first rotation when she identified a piece of anatomy incorrectly. “In the second week you really start to find your way around the practice. You’re getting to know everybody and you start to feel comfortable. Then by the third or fourth week you really seem to hit your stride and get the most out of it.”
The veterinarians say they, too, are getting the most out of having the students in their clinics. They say it’s personally rewarding to mentor students and helpful to have an extra pair of hands working in a busy practice, and the students bring a sense of enthusiasm that’s infectious.