New Zealand Study Shows Vet Students Need Hands-on Help

Many veterinary students are not as familiar with horses as students have been in years past, in part because many are raised in settings that are more removed from the farming lifestyle older veterinarians may have experienced.

A New Zealand study has found that many vet students need to learn basic equine behavior and observational skills before being allowed to handle and treat a horse. This is a necessity to keep vets safe: Veterinarians are 9.2 times more likely to have a severe accident while on the job that their medical counterparts in the human realm.

Lauréline Guinnefollau, Erica Gee, Charlotte Bolwell, Elizabeth Norman and Chris Rogers noted that horses are one of the most-dangerous animals veterinarians work with. For many students, the first time they’re around horses is during their practical, hands-on classes.

Researchers from Massey University sought to understand the depth of horse-handling knowledge students entering their veterinary program had. The study used 124 first-year students and 90 fourth-year students; each was given a questionnaire that asked about their background, experience with horses and their exposure to animals while growing up. Students used a five-point scale to rank their equine handling skill as well as their ability to perform basic horse-handling skills like putting on a halter, leading and grooming, which included picking out hooves.

The final part of the questionnaire sought to determine the students’ understanding of horse behavior. Each respondent was shown an image of a horse and asked to circle one term from a provided list that best described the horse’s behavior. The survey also asked questions to determine if students were familiar with positive and negative learning theory and reinforcement with regards to equines.

The majority of the first-year vet students were females from an urban environment; less than half had large animals or horses growing up. Only 26 percent of the first-year vet students considered themselves experienced with horses. Researchers determined from the questionnaire results that most first-year students had a poor understanding of equine learning mechanisms and poor equine handling skills. However, most students who had horses growing up could correctly identify the equine behavior in the survey.

Fourth-year students who also had grown up in more-urban environments were three times more likely to accurately interpret the horse’s behavior in the questionnaire.

The researchers suggest that a large amount of experience may be necessary to produce veterinarians who can work with confidence around horses and other large animals. The suggest that by encouraging prior equine experience on vet school applications that students may have increased confidence and knowledge of equine behavior, which could keep them safer and less prone to injury.

Read more at HorseTalk.

Read the full study here.

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