|By PATRICIA FOX
First published in print: Sunday, November 23, 2008
In the 30 years I have been in practice, I have witnessed significant innovations in all areas of medical training. Medical institutions can choose from a wide variety of cutting-edge training tools to ensure that students get the highest quality education. Today, more than 90 percent of ATLS courses across the country use only advanced human patient models. But in AMC's trauma training course, students continue to cut open live, anesthetized pigs to practice emergency medical procedures.
I know from firsthand experience what using animals in the classroom is like. When I was a plastic surgery resident at SUNY Downstate Medical School, it was common for schools to use live animals for a variety of purposes. In my senior year, I participated in a surgery course that used dogs. Each week, the dogs were subjected to a different operation, and like the pigs used in AMC's trauma training courses, the dogs were to be killed when the course ended.
Every day, to provide my dog with some exercise, I walked her past the guard at the front of the hospital and then returned her to a cage at the school. I grew to know her well. At the end of the course, I walked her past the guard one last time — and never returned to the lab. She was my companion for the next 12 years.
During this course, I witnessed the pain experienced by animals used in medical training. They suffer from transport, confinement, and preparation, and even with careful administration of anesthesia, it is possible for the animals to wake up during procedures. These classes cause the animals themselves extreme anxiety and suffering. But as I know from my experience, it can also be stressful and even traumatic for the human trainees.
Albany Med should immediately stop using live animals in trauma training — not only because it is inhumane, but because it is unnecessary. Even when I was in medical school decades ago, students were questioning whether it was necessary to practice procedures on live animals. In the surgery class using live dogs, I learned nothing I did not learn later and better in a more appropriate clinical setting.
Medical professionals must have a thorough understanding of human anatomy, and the anatomy of a dog or a pig is very different from that of a human. High-tech human patient simulators and other human-centered teaching methods allow students to learn how to treat acute trauma injuries on a model that duplicates human anatomy. With these superior alternatives, medical professionals can repeatedly practice critical emergency procedures without harming animals.
It is indefensible for AMC's trauma training program to continue using and killing animals when more effective training methods are approved and widely available. It's time for AMC to join the rest of New York and replace live animal use with better, more humane training methods.
From the development of the polio vaccine to more recent medical discoveries, we are all thankful for the medical field's constant innovations. But why do a few medical institutions ignore some of the field's major advancements?As a surgeon in Schenectady, I am disappointed that a facility in New York's Capital Region still uses live animals to teach emergency procedures to be performed on human patients. Albany Medical Center is the last facility in New York, and one of the last in the country, that continues to use live animals in advanced trauma life support training.