Future OVC graduates will have even greater understanding of the role ethics plays in the care they provide animals and their owners. Beginning this fall, ethics will be incorporated into various required courses at each level of the veterinary medicine program. The change is part of OVC's new curriculum, which is being phased in over a four-year period, and a larger effort to increase awareness and knowledge of animal welfare and ethics at Guelph.
Currently, the course "Ethics in Veterinary Medicine," team-taught by Prof. Ian Duncan, Animal and Poultry Science, and Prof. Peter Conlon, OVC's assistant dean for student affairs, is mandatory only for first-year students.
"It touches only the surface of the whole subject, which is one of the reasons for the impetus to increase the profile in the new curriculum," Conlon says.
"In veterinary medicine, what appears to be black and white, cut and dried, often isn't - there's a huge range of 'in between.' It can be difficult to know where to draw the line."
That's why it's important for veterinarians to understand ethics and know how to deal with difficult and emotional situations, he says.
Under the new curriculum, ethics will be one part of three multidisciplinary "Art of Veterinary Medicine" courses - one in each of the first three years of the curriculum. The first course will focus on awareness of expectations and values in situations that include ethical issues.
In the second and third years, ethics components will involve more problem-solving, with students confronting and dealing with situations such as convenience euthanasia, indigent clients and use of animals in teaching and research. During the fourth clinical-learning year, students will be asked to draw on what they've learned and apply it in their clinical work.
During all four years, there will also be greater emphasis on understanding the relationship between pets and their owners.
"The importance of the human-animal bond is one of the newer discussions in veterinary medicine, just coming to the forefront, and we want to make sure our students are learning the correct skills," Conlon says.
"Revitalizing a curriculum gets you thinking about what the college can do differently and do better," he adds. "It also says that ethics is a teachable, learnable skill, and that everyone can improve in this area."