Penn Vet transitions from discipline-based to fully integrated curriculum
When I started vet school at the University of Pennsylvania 22 years ago, my days were mostly spent in one lecture hall or another with the rest of my class, where we often stayed the entire day. Our courses had typical academic names like biochemistry, anatomy, and immunology. Each course was its own separate entity, and it wasn’t until later years (or even in practice) that we would really start integrating all the information that we had been taught into more practical clinical skills.
In the recent edition of Penn Vet’s magazine, I read about how the student experience, including the curriculum, has been reimagined. So, I spoke with Martin J. Hackett, chief communications officer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. He gave me some insight into how veterinary student education has been modernized under the direction of Kathy Michel, DVM, MS, MSED, associate dean for education and professor of nutrition, and Amy Durham, MS, VMD, assistant dean for education and professor of anatomic pathology.
Hackett explained that the new curriculum was first implemented in August 2022 for the Class of 2026 for their first year and will now, for the first time, be applied to the second year of training for this same class.
“The rapid pace of discovery in the basic sciences, and the translation of these finding into veterinary practice, required us to train students to be lifelong learners,” he said, “and to have the ability to find and interpret information and apply it to their practice.”
Since it is now recognized to be impossible to teach future veterinarians everything they will need to know while they are in vet school, the focus has shifted to teaching them how to learn and assimilate new information as they go throughout their professional careers.
As Hackett describes it, “the transformation is immense and moves Penn Vet’s preclinical curriculum from a discipline-based model to a fully integrated curriculum.” The courses in the first two years are now system-based, with the first year focused on “normal,” while the second year focuses on various disease states of those systems.
Additional coursework in the first two years include a “doctoring” course that focuses on clinical and professional skills, along with a course on scientific enquiry that provides tools to help students hone their clinical decisionmaking skills.
As part of this new curriculum, students can start their clinical rotations in the fall of their third year and continue taking elective courses throughout the two clinical years.
Just as importantly, the curriculum will focus on the individual as a whole person. “Our new curriculum is designed to produce graduates who are not only highly knowledgeable in veterinary medicine, but well-rounded professionals who excel in communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and ethical conduct,” Hackett said.
This will include emphasis on identity formation, wellbeing, and cultural competency, skills that will help newly graduated veterinarians find unique ways to serve their patients and clients while driving innovation within our profession. The emphasis on wellness can teach students to create healthy habits and boundaries as well as how to recognize when they need further support
Initial feedback from students and faculty has been very positive, Hackett said. Students report feeling “more engaged in their studies,” lower levels of stress, and increased mental wellbeing as a result of fewer hours spent in traditional lectures. They also report more camaraderie with their classmates because of the team-oriented, collaborative focus of the new curriculum.
Faculty have noticed increased student engagement and participation, with some faculty members also finding new ways to collaborate with each other thanks to the organization of the faculty into workgroups.
With two more years of the new curriculum remaining to launch as the class of 2026 moves through their veterinary education, Hackett said Penn Vet is “making real-time, iterative changes to the new curriculum based on student and faculty feedback.”
With this approach of constantly incorporating the changing landscape of veterinary medicine and seeking feedback from students and faculty, it seems that Penn Vet is adopting a strategy of lifelong learning alongside its students.
Educating a 21st Century Veterinarian
The New Penn Vet Curriculum
Emily Singler, VMD, is a 2001 graduate of Penn State University and a 2005 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Her career in veterinary medicine has included experience in shelter medicine, private practice, and as a relief veterinarian. She currently works as a veterinary writer, consultant, and mentor and enjoys writing for both pet owners and veterinary professionals. Her writing interests include public health, preventive medicine, the human-animal bond, and life as a working mom. She is the author of Pregnancy and Postpartum Considerations for the Veterinary Team, which was published by CRC Press in November 2023 and is available now at www.emilysinglervmd.com.
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