Veterinary medicine gets high-tech at new clinical learning centre

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Just as pilots learn to fly using simulators, the next cohort of veterinary students at the University of Saskatchewan will now be able to practice medical procedures on simulated patients at the new clinical learning centre on campus.

The BJ Hughes Centre for Clinical Learning at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine officially opened on Sept. 22. The creation of the approximately half-million dollar facility was largely supported by entrepreneur Bev Hughes and the BJ Hughes Foundation’s donation of $340,000. At the facility’s grand opening, Hughes announced an additional $250,000 donation for the centre.

Third-year veterinary student Karissa Mitchell practices skills on new animal models.

Dr. Chris Clark, associate dean academic at the WCVM, explains that some professors had already been using very basic homemade models of wounds in labs.

“One of the things we started out with was using dish towels and duct tape to create a synthetic wound that could be sutured … This summer we were experimenting with different silicones to try and create a more lifelike texture for students to practice suturing on,” Clark said.

The WCVM worked closely with the Clinical Learning Resource Centre at the College of Medicine when developing the BJ Hughes Centre. In addition, four high-tech animal models have been donated to the new centre.

Clark explains why the simulation lab will be beneficial for students.

“Our long term goal is to see this used in all four years of the veterinary undergraduate curriculum. We’ll see it being used in our graduate training programs. Certainly, we will be using it with the Saskatchewan Polytechnic veterinary nursing program and I also see it being of value in our continuing education program for veterinarians,” Clark said.

When third-year veterinary student Karissa Mitchell heard about the construction of the simulation lab, she knew immediately that it would be a great improvement for the college.

“I was like, ‘Why didn’t this happen sooner?’ I wish it would have been when we were in first year,” Mitchell said.

Clark hopes students will become more confident with the skills taught in labs.

“The old mantra was, ‘see one, do one, teach one,’” Clark said. “[The new centre is] going to allow people to repeat things which, in the previous program, we haven’t really had that opportunity. You got to do one injection, but now using a simulator you can do as many injections as you want until you’re comfortable.”

Mitchell agrees that it takes time to become comfortable with certain procedures, as even doing a blood draw may not be as easy as it seems.

“I really liked the cat with the venipuncture [setup]. I think that’s going to be really beneficial for lots of students because … I feel like it’s so good to practice [venipuncture] on a fake animal, like even simple things like how to hold a syringe … get all those awkward stages out before you’re dealing with a real animal,” Mitchell said.

The new centre is designed to make students competent in basic skills and help prepare them for emergency situations. In addition, it offers a number of simulated emergencies which would be inhumane to recreate with live animals.

“What you don’t want is to be in a situation [when] the first time you are trying to put an intubation tube in is when the animal has stopped breathing and is having a seizure,” Clark said.

Mitchell is also hoping to practice her emergency medicine at the BJ Hughes Centre.

“I find that another reason why this lab is going to be so beneficial is because I could read about how to perform CPR on a dog like 10 times in a textbook, but it would never amount to how much I’m going to learn by actually doing it myself on the model dog.”

Mitchell expresses her thanks to the donors who made the opening of the clinical learning centre possible.

“On behalf of all the students here, we’re really really grateful to BJ Hughes who donated the money for the lab. I think all the students have been waiting for something like this to come to our school and it’s great that it’s finally here.”

Gwen Roy

Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor