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Oklahoma State University

Surviving Veterinary College during COVID-19

Monday, April 20, 2020

Lyndi Gilliam, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, associate professor of equine internal medicine. Photo by Phil Shockley.

Spring semester 2020 wasn’t what anyone expected — not the faculty and certainly not the students. On March 18, all classes switched to online only. Fourth year veterinary students, who were honing their clinical skills at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital, had to leave and complete the remainder of their clinical training online. How do you learn to evaluate a living, breathing animal without touching or observing it? How do you conduct a lab online? When you are part of Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the answer is simple — you do whatever it takes to get the job done and get it done well.

Lyndi Gilliam, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, associate professor of equine internal medicine

“Online teaching is going OK, but I don’t love it. I miss seeing my students face-to-face,” said Gilliam. “I could have just loaded last year’s lectures for them to watch, but I wanted to do them live so I could still interact with students the best I could.”

Because Gilliam also had to manage her children’s education, she was working from home. However, the Gilliams live in a dead spot in the country where internet service lags.

“The students couldn’t hear me well, and my lecture slides weren’t working. I was so discouraged when a colleague, Dr. Laura Nafe, said I could park at her house and use her internet access.”

Gilliam has delivered more than 14 lectures in her vehicle from Nafe’s driveway. In a single day, she gave three lectures, a lab class and held two rounds meetings with fourth-year students, draining her computer battery.

“I had to migrate to Dr. Nafe’s front porch and continue from there, still practicing social distancing. It’s been challenging, but the students have commented several times that they appreciate my efforts to stay with them live. I think it keeps us all feeling like we are still together, although we are isolated. These veterinary students are like my children to me. I care about their well-being and getting them what they need to be successful in their careers. They’ve put too much in and come too far to have an obstacle like COVID-19 derail them.”

Gilliam teaches all four years of the DVM curriculum. Working with fourth-year students is particularly challenging because they are used to hands-on experiences and directly interacting with clients.

“I contacted the barn where my daughter rides horses,” said Gilliam. “Four horse owners agreed to let my students create a wellness plan for their horses. Owners filled out surveys about their horses. My students evaluated the information and created a vaccine, deworming and dental care plan for each client. We then met via Skype or Zoom. Students introduced themselves and went over the client’s plan. The clients enjoyed getting the information, and the students enjoyed the real-life experience while building their communication and clinical skills.

“We have to be creative and flexible and stay positive. With a recording stethoscope, I recorded heart sounds of our teaching horses and then did a lab with the students so they could listen to the sounds and tell me what they were hearing. It’s never going to be the same as real life, but technology is better than it would have been 10 or 20 years ago. There are days when I didn’t feel like talking to the computer, but I remembered those eager minds on the other side of the screen. It drives me to do my best for them, to stay upbeat and encourage them along the way. We are in this together.”

Timothy Snider, DVM, Ph.D., DACVP, professor of veterinary pathobiology

“While I miss the students and most enjoy lecturing face-to-face, I am enjoying online teaching. Students have been very flexible and forgiving of my many mistakes — some of which have been funny,” said Snider. “I have learned to call on students during discussion times to help keep them engaged. Being untethered to the physical classroom allows us to try new means and environments for teaching. During an evening examination preparatory session at my ranch, we reviewed pathology concepts with a dozen baby goats and their mothers frolicking in the background. I took ITLE’s inaugural “Preparing Online Instructors” course in spring 2009, wondering if I would ever use it. Completing that course gave me a built-in comfort level to begin online teaching immediately.”

Shane Lyon, DVM, MS, DACVIM (SAIM), associate professor of small animal internal medicine

“Faculty had the option to show up when they would normally teach and deliver their lecture to an empty room,” said Lyon. “Echo360 would record it as usual and post it online for students to access. Lecturing to an empty room was uncomfortable for me, so I elected to give my lectures over Zoom. It is still a little odd, but students have the option to ask questions or obtain clarification, which I think helps with engagement.

“As bad as this situation has been, I am excited to see what will ultimately develop from being forced to teach in this way. I know that my skillset in a virtual learning environment has increased. I am already thinking of how I can integrate these newly acquired techniques into my historical teaching methods once we return to the normal method of instruction. We tell our students all the time that you need to be pushed out of your comfort zone for real learning and growth to occur. This has pushed me beyond my comfort zone as a teacher and ultimately I will be a better educator because of this experience.”

Savanna Smith, class of 2023

“All of our professors, at least for first-year students, have absolutely risen to the challenge and are doing great with the resources they have,” said Smith. “Dr. Snider held a review session with his baby goats to enrich his class and had fun putting new backgrounds up during his Zoom lecture. Dr. (Jerry) Ritchey (interim director of the diagnostic lab conducting COVID-19 sample testing) is doing fantastic, especially regarding the circumstances he’s under. Dr. S (Madhan Subramanian) has been great at looking for resources to overcome the insurmountable task of teaching us comparative anatomy without cadavers. Dr. (Josh) Butcher is still his usual funny self and gives the class memes during his lecture. He always tries to relate the physiology that he is teaching us (and that he learned) to animal examples, a feat that causes him to take time away from his family to research. Drs. Allen and Saleh have been very punctual in giving us our lectures and are doing a great job of being available for questions. While I would prefer to get back in the classroom with my peers for hands-on learning, our professors have facilitated this in a way that I do not think my education will be drastically impacted in a negative manner. Props to them!”

Jessie Clough, class of 2023

“Shout out to all of the second-semester first-year instructors,” said Clough. “They are absolutely amazing! I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to teach solely online. I am so grateful for the extra time they have spent trying to come up with solutions that make it easier for us to learn.”

Stephanie Kline, class of 2020

Fourth-year veterinary student Stephanie Kline snapped a picture of one of her equine surgery Zoom rounds discussions to illustrate how faculty, house officers and staff are doing it all.

“The picture shows Dr. Megan Williams fixing her daughter’s hair while simultaneously providing us with excellent interactive case discussions on lameness cases,” said Kline. “Here they are trying to adjust to a new daily life themselves and are still taking time to make sure we get a valuable education during our last months as students. It warms my heart more than I can say. Drs. Kelsey Jurek, Hugh Duddy and Evan Crisman (house officers) have also gone above and beyond to Skype us in on all procedures and take pictures for case discussions. And I love that they still quiz us to keep us sharp as if we were standing right there! Everyone who has been part of the equine surgery virtual rotation has been rocking it out, and I’m forever grateful!”

As fourth-year veterinary students continue their journey to earn a veterinary medicine degree, their path will not come to the close they anticipated. On May 8, 2020, the class of 2020 will participate in a virtual commencement ceremony on Zoom where their DVM degree will be conferred and they will recite the veterinarian’s oath for family and friends watching the live feed, signifying that they did, in fact, survive veterinary college during COVID-19.

“Our students have transitioned well to this new norm in their education,” said Dr. Carlos Risco, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Their resolve to complete their studies during this daunting time has been an inspiration to us. I am very proud of them. Our faculty and staff in their own way are leading by example to inspire others and accepting new challenges to meet the needs of our students. I am glad to have them on my team.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | derinda@okstate.edu

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