CSU moving to eliminate terminal surgeries from DVM program

The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University (CSU) is moving to end the use of terminal surgeries—procedures in which animals used in training are euthanized rather than recovered after surgery—in their DVM program.

In doing so, CSU joins the growing ranks of veterinary colleges at school such as the University of Pennsylvania, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (the first veterinary school in the US to eliminate all terminal procedures in all species), Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, the University of California, Davis, and, just last January, Tuskegee University.

The debate over whether terminal surgeries are necessary to a veterinary education is decades old.

At CSU, the heavy lifting started last July, when Melinda Frye, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM, associate dean for veterinary academic and student affairs, convened an Animal Use in DVM Education committee composed of CSU faculty and staff. The committee was charged with developing a roadmap to move the school away from the use of terminal procedures for teaching and replacing that component with activities of equal or greater educational value by using models, cadavers, virtual reality, and supervised surgical experiences on live animals in real-life settings, such as in spay-neuter clinics.

Initially, CSU had planned to discontinue all terminal procedures within the DVM program by fall of 2021, but concerns from students, faculty, and external stakeholders about the school’s ability to successfully make the transition within that timeframe, plus the impact of COVID, caused the school to revise their schedule to eliminate some easily replaced procedures by next fall and allowing an additional year to allow for the replication of more complex experiences.

In November of 2020, Frye sent a letter to CSU alumni and referring veterinarians detailing the multiple reasons for the school’s decision to move away from terminal procedures—reasons which included ethical concerns and public perception—and outlining some of the steps the school was taking to do so.

Those include:

  • The development of a future surgical training program
  • The promotion and understanding of foundational principles
  • Robust anatomy instruction and repeated practice on models and cadavers
  • The honing of skills through supervised surgical experiences on live animals of various sizes and species
  • Additional in-house primary care opportunities through service to underserved populations
  • The development of additional off-campus opportunities to provide hands-on clinical opportunities

In closing, Frye wrote: “We will also continue to collaborate and learn more from our colleagues at other colleges of veterinary medicine who currently train highly successful graduates in the absence of terminal procedures.”

To that end, she writes that CSU will host an open virtual forum on this topic this spring featuring faculty and students from programs at other schools that have transitioned away from terminal animal use.

Details to come.

Photo credit: © andresr/E+ via Getty Images