Euthanasia Curriculum – A Student Perspective

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By Lindsay Francis, CSU DVM Class of 2020

Edited by Dr. Kathleen Cooney

I came to veterinary school “knowing how to do a euthanasia.” The two years at my small animal clinic had taught me that. Every dog was treated the same – to the back for an IV catheter, then propofol/euthasol in the exam room. We did small things to make the cold, white rooms more comfortable. Blankets, towels, and dog beds. Privacy screen on the door. Letting families stay as long as they needed after. But the clients had so few options. Stay or leave. Private cremation or communal. That was it. Every client was mailed a sympathy card. Every pet went into the freezer in a black trash bag. I had no idea how much better it could be.

Fast forward to the end of my second year of veterinary school. The Veterinary Curriculum Committee (which I am lucky to be a member of) had identified a gap in the curriculum – euthanasia education. Sure, we learned about the drugs in our anesthesia course and we learned about navigating difficult conversations in the communications course. But there was no euthanasia specific training. The committee asked if someone would be willing to take the CAETA course that we were looking at adding to the curriculum and report back to the committee. I immediately volunteered. A refresher couldn’t hurt even though I knew what I was doing.

Boy was I wrong. I cannot properly convey how much I learned from Dr. Cooney and the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy’s (CAETA) program. It went far beyond drug combinations and alternate routes, far beyond memorialization and scheduling of appointments, far beyond how to handle difficult situations. But at the core was a single concept – compassion.

I returned to the committee with my report and firm belief that this training needed to be required core in our curriculum for all students. One of the first questions that I was asked was whether or not the ten hours could be condensed. Apparently, an eight-hour class would be so much easier to squeeze into the curriculum than a ten-hour class. I ardently disagreed, saying that twelve would be better. It stayed at the full ten.

My veterinary class – the Class of 2020 at Colorado State University – is the first veterinary class in the nation to have this euthanasia training as part of core curriculum. In fact, we are all now CAETA certified! One of my classmates, now a fourth-year student, recently completed her first solo euthanasia for a client. Because of the CAETA training, it went smoothly, kindly, and peacefully.

Hopefully, more and more veterinary schools will adopt this euthanasia training into their curriculums. It is beyond valuable, and the lessons translate far beyond a mobile small animal euthanasia setting. I am so thankful for this training and would encourage it for any veterinarian or student, whether they “know how to do a euthanasia” or not.

Lindsay Francis, MS

Colorado State University DVM Class of 2020

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Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, DACAW resident Founder, Senior Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy