The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine’s Healer’s Art course was moved online for the first time. This is a course that focuses on addressing the growing loss of meaning and commitment that veterinarians may experience while under the stress of today’s world. Through this course, by the way of open dialogue, students recognize and find the true value of their work, while also learning how to preserve the human dimension. With open dialogue, it has always been important to have personal, face-to-face connection, but due to COVID-19, the course was moved to remote meetings.
Assistant Teaching Professor of Small Animal Surgery and codirector of The Healer’s Art course, Jill K. Luther, DVM, MS, DACVS-SA, detailed the course further. “It’s a course where students and faculty come together in a community to discuss nontraditional issues in veterinary medicine,” said Luther. “There’s no black and white science, there’s no teaching, it’s an all discussion-based course.”
According to Evangeline Andarsio, MD, director of the national Healer’s Art course at the Remen Institute for the Study of Health and Illness, Mizzou was the first institution to offer the entire course virtually. The Healer’s Art is a course that is taught across all medical professions nationwide. Some medical schools switched to the virtual format midway when universities began the move to remote instruction, but the Mizzou CVM was the first to offer the entire course online throughout all medical professions across the country.
With the course moving to an online format, some basic changes were made to ensure the course remains as effective as it would be in person. “Essentially, we took everything that is in person and have moved it to the Zoom format,” said Luther. “There have been some things we looked at to maintain the basic principles of the course. We use generous listening, which means no interruptions. Strict confidentiality is another, which is easier when you’re in a room and you can close the door. Now everybody has to keep their video on so that you know that there aren’t people listening in and people walking back and forth.”
Codirector of the CVM course and Veterinary Social Worker Francesca Tocco, MSW, LCSW, said minimizing distractions was key with students learning remotely, while also highlighting a nice surprise of the virtual meetings. “Looking at your phone is obviously a distraction that we want to avoid,” said Tocco. “One of my favorite parts this year was being able to see some of the pets that joined The Healer’s Art because everyone was working from home. That was a nice touch in my opinion, but I guess some could consider that a distraction,” she said laughing.
The third codirector of the course is Associate Teaching Professor of Equine Ambulatory Medicine Alison LaCarrubba, DVM, DABVP-Equine. She is a longtime faculty participant in the course, who joined as a codirector this year.
With the course beginning in June, the decision was made to move the course online. Luther says this didn’t affect the course negatively, but actually improved it at Mizzou. “I would say that it’s been enhanced actually,” said Luther. “We’ve been able to include clinical students this year, and we’ve never been able to include them before. Attendance is mandatory and clinical students never know what time they’re going to get out of clinics, and they have after-hours duties, so this year they were able to attend. Another way it has been enhanced is that everyone was in their own comfortable environment. We were able to dive deeper into these serious discussions because we were all more comfortable on a certain level.”
Tocco mentioned that they were able to have guest speakers because of the online format. “The fact that we had guest DVMs that were practicing in other parts of the state, such as Springfield and St. Louis, who were able to contribute, was lovely.”
As far as challenges go, there were few. “There were some connectivity issues,” says Luther. “I think one issue was being at home. Being able to step away from the family, for people who have children, because during this time we haven’t been able to get away from those children very much. So that provided a bit of a challenge, but overall, I thought administering this course was easier.”
Even though the course was forced to move to the online format, Tocco says The Healer’s Art course went smoothly. “Sometimes in the traditional format students are in back-to-back classes or laboratory exercises and they would come to The Healer’s Art from a day full. This format allowed them to eat some food beforehand and let their dogs out beforehand. They were able to attend to the balance of life and be very present during our course, which was nice,” she said.
By Nick Childress