On Jan. 31, the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill announced that it will cease the use of live animals in its emergency medicine training program, according to an e-mail sent to the Physicians Committee. The university’s program joins the vast majority of emergency medicine residency programs in the United States in using human-based methods, such as medical simulation, to train residents. The announcement follows months of pressure from the Physicians Committee and comes on the heels of a similar decision by the University of South Carolina in September.
According to Karen McCall, chief communications and marketing officer for UNC Heath Care, going forward, “residents will solely use simulation models for emergency medicine training.”
Ninety percent (143 out of 158) of U.S. emergency medicine residency programs surveyed by the Physicians Committee use only nonanimal education methods. UNC’s decision places it alongside every other program in North Carolina - including Duke University, East Carolina University, and Wake Forest University. Programs still using animals should note this overwhelming preference for human-based training.
Simulators like those referenced by Ms. McCall replicate human anatomy much better than animals can. What’s more, simulators can move and react to touch, something that animals under anesthesia cannot do, and they allow for the repeated practice of a procedure.
Emergency medicine training at UNC involved cutting into live pigs to practice procedures. After the training sessions, the animals were killed.
On Aug. 4, the Physicians Committee filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Region Animal Care office, citing violations of the Animal Welfare Act and inadequate oversight of the training protocol by the school’s animal care and use committee. On Oct. 26, Ryan Merkley, Associate Director of Research Policy with the Physicians Committee, visited the Chapel Hill campus to speak to the community about the subject. In addition, North Carolina physician and retired UNC faculty member Roberta Gray, M.D., submitted public comment to the university’s Board of Governors meeting on Jan. 13, providing evidence and arguments supporting the transition to exclusively human-relevant training methods.
The Physicians Committee congratulates the University of North Carolina for modernizing its training methods and joining the vast majority of emergency medicine residency programs in employing exclusively nonanimal methods.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.