Ever thought about how veterinary students learn to perform surgery? In the old days, your animals would be our learning tools. But things have changed. 

In the last thirty years veterinary education has changed. Because we treat more pets than farm animals, and because we are concerned more for the welfare of animals than ever before, learning directly on loved-for pets is a big no-no when it comes to something as tricky as surgery. 

That’s why we now rely on either shelter animals that require spays and neuters to learn and hone our skills in that area, or on the "use" of laboratory animals that are destined to be euthanized upon completion of the procedure.

It’s sad, I know. Which is why veterinary students are never required to participate in these so-called "non-recovery" or "terminal" surgical procedures. They may choose to do so if they want to acquire more experience in advance of a career in veterinary medicine, particularly if they have a special interest in surgery. Most of us choose to learn surgery in internships, residencies, or on the job. 

The dogs are well treated and always euthanized if it’s a painful procedure. But that’s not good enough, some of us say. Terminal procedures are increasingly frowned upon as learning tools and more schools are shying away from offering them. 

After all, the animal welfare issues involved in using purpose-bred animals to fill this function is considered immoral by an increasing percentage of veterinary students. The controversy can get intense in school environments –– not to mention what happens when PETA catches wind of our veterinary school antics. 

That’s why schools are opting out of this approach to live animal surgeries. Ross University’s veterinary school is only the most recent example to end their terminal surgery training. More on this tomorrow, with talk about one specific case of controversy at Oklahoma State University…with my opinions included. 

Dr. Patty Khuly