Does the medical school that you care most about still use dog labs to teach basic physiology and pharmacology?
If it does, is that what you want?
Historically medical schools in the United States have used dog labs to teach basic physiology and pharmacology. Today the trend in medical education is away from using dog labs for demonstration purposes. Most of the nation's leading medical schools have developed alternative methods for teaching these disciplines. Read about opposition to dog labs at Colorado University School of Medicine in Denver at these two web sites: and http://rmad.org/dogs.html.
In dog labs, students or instructors typically anesthetize a dog, cut open the dog's chest and use its beating heart to demonstrate principles of physiology and pharmacology. At the end of the demonstration, they kill the dog.
In some of the alternatives that medical schools have developed, students go to hospitals and observe surgery on humans. They interact with surgeons and anesthesiologists during surgery.
In other instances, instructors and students use interactive software. The software graphically simulates human physiology and the effects of pharmacological agents on heart disease, heart rate and blood pressure.
Students and doctors report that the alternative methods nourish students' desire to heal and save lives; they preserve students' empathy for dependent beings; and they allow students to learn physiology and pharmacology without the emotional and psychological distractions of cutting open and killing dogs.
Like other concerned physicians, I am working to persuade the medical school I care most about -- in my case, UCSD where I did my residency in pathology- to develop alternatives to dog labs for teaching physiology and pharmacology.
For decades, UCSD has used dog labs to teach these disciplines to its first-year medical students. What's more, UCSD does not get the dogs the students vivisect from a pound. They buy purpose-bred dogs from commercial dog factories that produce animals specifically for teaching or research. Each of these dogs costs UCSD about $450.
To encourage faculty members to come up with alternative ways to teach physiology and pharmacology, I have met with students, arranged to be interviewed by the local press, written a letter to the editor, and, in general, made a bit of a pest of myself. Currently I am collecting the signatures of San Diego physicians on a petition that urges UCSD Medical School to develop alternatives to the dog labs for demonstration purposes.
The first impulse of many on UCSD's faculty is to fight against a change in the school's traditional practices. (Some are quick to lump me together with what they regard as the whacko animal-rights activists.) Nonetheless, I believe that, over time, the majority of the faculty - with their students' encouragement - will migrate more and more students and more and more resources to alternative teaching methods. I urge you to educate yourself about what goes on in dog labs. I ask you to look at the alternative methods that so many other schools have developed. I believe that, once you are familiar with the facts, you will want your medical school to stop using dog labs to teach basic physiology and pharmacology. You will want them to develop and adopt more effective and humane alternatives.
The world of medical education is changed through conversations. As a student, teacher, alumnus or other affiliate, you can use your stature and connections to influence your school's future course. I urge you to initiate conversations with students, faculty, administrators, trustees, the governor and state and federal legislators. Make phone calls. Send them e-mails and letters.
What the heck, give George Dubya a ring. Tell him you're a fan of Springer spaniels.
How to educate yourself about dog labs and the alternatives? I recommend that you watch two videotapes. First, watch "Dog Lab", available from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Then watch "Advances in Medical Education", available from the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. Click here to view excerpts of these videos on line. (I know these videos are biased against dog labs. But after you watch them you will be too. You will no longer notice that the videos are biased.) Your host on "Advances in Medical Education" is Henry Heimlich, M. D., of Heimlich Maneuver fame. He taught millions of us how to save the life of a person who is choking. Now Dr. Heimlich -- Like you! -- is trying to persuade medical-school honchos to think beyond dog labs as a way of teaching.
Our Resource page has links to several pertinent items. In particular, visit Critical Concepts and read about their interactive physiology simulation software: SimBioSys. The downloadable free demo is no longer available on their web site, but a licensed copy of SimBioSys has been purchased for UCSD medical students in the LRC. The Resource page also has links to a highly favorable JAMA review and citations from academic literature are also provided
When you carry on conversations about dog labs, keep in mind that the issue of performing vivisection for purely pedagogical purposes is quite distinct from the issue of using animals for medical research. When students cut open dogs to demonstrate basic physiology and pharmacology, they do not discover anything new. They do not advance medical science. Don't let dog-lab would-be perpetuators turn aside your pedagogical arguments with research rebuttals.
I hope that thinking about the issues will lead you to encourage your medical school to forego dog-lab pedagogy and make alternative learning experiences available to students. Whatever point-of-view you arrive at, I would like to hear it.
What if they gave a dog lab and nobody came?
Doctors Against Dog Labs 1999.