Whatever their background, most new veterinary students share one desire: to work with animals as soon as possible. Continuous modiﬁcations and improvements to the curriculum—in response to input from faculty, students, alumni, and employers— have resulted in a history of classroom adaptations in Cornell’s veterinary curriculum that continually bring students closer to the action sooner.
“We want to give students the tools they’ll need as veterinarians as early as possible so they can refine them over the time they’re with us,” said McDaniel. “Last Fall we introduced a new set of labs in which first-years perform basic procedures on all major species. After spending mornings learning anatomy while dissecting cadavers in Block I they look at the same structures in live animals in the afternoon. It gives these young people a wonderful sense of accomplishment and they can practice these skills during their summer experiences.”
Teaching skills to students sooner, the Clinical Procedures module now precedes the Public Health module, helping students gain comfort with one of medicine’s most infamously difficult endeavors: surgery.
“Surgical skills are hard for students; there’s a steep learning curve for handling instruments,” said McDaniel. “Past students got their first surgery experience in their third year. Now incoming first-years learn correct instrument handling from real surgeons and more advanced techniques and suture patterns in the spring.”
In response to student suggestions in course evaluations instructors introduced discussion sections to the Ethics and Animal Care module. Small groups of students discuss ethically charged scenarios and share perspectives. The module’s latter portion now includes new lectures and discussions on animal nutrition.
The Community Practice Service (CPS) began offering underclassmen new opportunities to observe appointments run by fourth-year students and to practice communicating with clients by conducting brief patient-history interviews on camera. Peers and faculty use the recording to offer students constructive feedback on communication skills. Meanwhile, third-year students in the Communication Skills module must navigate new simulated client interactions involving actors playing clients with varied temperaments.
“We meet students when they first walk in the door and begin equipping them with skills they’ll need in the clinics and beyond,” said Dr. Carolyn McDaniels, veterinary curriculum instructor and current director of Course VII. “This kind of course never existed when I was in school.”
Course VII, or “Block VII”, revolutionized veterinary learning at Cornell nearly twenty years ago. A foundation course, its six sequential sections span students’ first 2.5 years. Former course director Dr. John Ludders, professor emeritus of anesthesiology, has seen it through its multifaceted evolution.
“Back when we were designing the ‘new curriculum’ we realized students would miss basics such as examination skills, ethics, and public health,” recalled Ludders. “So Dr. John Saidla designed a course called ‘Block VII’ to fill curricular gaps. The students really appreciated the course. When he left around 1999 several clinical faculty stepped up to help lead and refine the course.
“Students seemed inadequately prepared for clinic rotations. They could not perform some basic tests or properly restrain patients, and had problems understanding basic public health issues. So we revised Block VII to strengthen physical examination skills, teaching students to milk dairy cattle, perform diagnostic procedures in cadavers, complete governmental health certificates for patients, and use basic clinical equipment.”
Course VII became a catch-all repository for essential material not covered in the other six blocks. Last year, with the help of several faculty and former course directors, Dr. McDaniel led the course through its most recent innovations.
“In teaching I often ask myself and my students what makes someone a great veterinarian,” said Dr. McDaniel. “There has to be a knowledge base, but they also most have technical hand skills and the ability to communicate effectively. The first six blocks in the curriculum build the knowledge base. We cover the rest. That’s two thirds of a veterinarian’s most important learning. I love watching students become veterinarians over the three years we see them in this course.”