Reforming Medical Education
While medical practice is undergoing constant changes, medical education is sometimes slow to advance. Medical students regularly contact PCRM for information they are not getting in their classes: information on nutrition and health, and outlooks on ethical debates such as physician-assisted suicide and unnecessary surgeries. These issues are addressed in PCRM’s Medical School Curricula materials. Most common of all requests, however, is for help securing an alternative to a live animal laboratory.
Although top schools such as Yale, Stanford, and Columbia have eliminated these exercises, about half of the medical schools in the U.S. and Canada still have live animal laboratories as part of basic physiology or pharmacology training. Most common are “dog labs” in which first- or second-year students observe the effects of various drugs on live dogs, and then the animals are killed. These show-and-tell exercises merely demonstrate basic pharmacological and physiological concepts with which the students are already familiar.
PCRM’s spring medical school outreach provides answers and gives students information and materials they need to ensure they have an alternative to the animal lab. The high-publicity campaign also encourages medical faculty to implement alternatives, such as interactive CD-ROMs, videotapes, and observation of actual human surgery, a fascinating program pioneered by Harvard Medical School and documented in the PCRM videotape, Advances in Medical Education with Henry Heimlich, M.D.
PCRM has placed advertisements in community newspapers and participated in local television, radio, and print media interviews. Local contacts arrange on-campus screenings of Advances in Medical Education so students and staff can see the effectiveness of Harvard’s program.
More than half of U.S. medical schools have eliminated animal labs from their curricula, and most of those that have labs offer alternatives for students requesting them. Many students want not just an alternative, but an end to the labs once and for all. PCRM continues to be their primary source of information and support.