In Fargo, the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) program jointly run by North Dakota State University and Sanford Health is using live animals to teach surgical skills—something done by almost no other program in the country. Each course participant is instructed to make an incision between a pig’s ribs to insert a tube into the animal’s chest cavity and insert a needle into this cavity to drain fluid from the sac surrounding the heart. At this point, the pig is killed, and participants make an incision in the animal’s throat to insert a breathing tube.
But it’s clear that NDSU’s use of animals goes against the prevailing use of simulators for trauma training. Of the 293 accredited programs teaching ATLS courses in the United States and Canada, only one other program uses live animals to train students in surgery techniques. The remaining 99 percent of programs use nonanimal methods, including the TraumaMan System, a realistic anatomical human body simulator that has lifelike human skin, subcutaneous fat, muscle, and blood vessels. TraumaMan is endorsed by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the organization which oversees ATLS courses, and is widely used. In addition, earlier this year the U.S. Department of Defense ended the use of animals for ATLS training in favor of modern medical simulation.
Nonanimal methods have been proven more effective in teaching the procedures that make up the surgical skills portion of the ATLS course. According to a study published in the November 2002 edition of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, study participants misplaced 30.2 percent of cricothyroidotomies (an ATLS surgical skill) when performing the procedure on live animals compared to only 3.6 percent when using human cadavers (McCarthy).
The NDSU-Sanford program continues the substandard practice of using live pigs for trauma training despite the fact that viable alternatives to the use of animals in ATLS training clearly exist and are widely implemented. Please take action and tell NDSU president Dean L. Bresciani, Ph.D., and Sanford Medical Center president Paul Richard that North Dakota deserves better.
Reina Pohl, M.P.H.
Research and Education Programs Specialist