The average veterinary college offers students less than 4 hours of euthanasia training before graduation. As 2022, the Virginia-Maryland (VA-MD) College of Vet Med, part of Virginia Polytech University in Blacksburg, VA provides 30+ hours to its veterinary students, something no other school has accomplished thus far. That’s impressive and deserves some special praise. This past weekend, the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy (CAETA) made our annual pilgrimage to VA-MD for 2 days of learning, and as usual, it was energizing and rewarding to see the students actively seeking to understand good death. We need more of that in academia.
Third year veterinary students at VA-MD get to choose from a lineup of electives that will shape their body of knowledge and ultimately their career paths. Around 85% of them sign up annually for CAETA’s Compassionate End of Life course, a 2-credit elective holding 30 hours of euthanasia-centric education. Course content includes heavy instruction on euthanasia methodology, species variations, drug protocols, communication, and veterinary well-being. The material is delivered online and in person during the fall semester, with the culmination of their experience being the euthanasia technique laboratory on the last day. CAETA instructors demonstrate the 5 most common euthanasia techniques using cadavers. The students practice in a supportive and low pressure environment to build confidence before they go on to work with actual clients and pet patients. After technique training, CAETA shows how to create memorial keepsakes and how to respectfully wrap a body for transport. The 2-hour laboratory remains the highlight of the learning.
VA-MD provides a faculty liaison to work with CAETA to ensure the students stay on task to complete the elective requirements. This includes online discussions about euthanasia, case reviews, and quizzes to assess student comprehension. Dr. Virginia Corrigan, a former clinician at VA-MD, invited CAETA in for the newly launched course back in 2019. A trained hospice and palliative care veterinarian, Dr. Corrigan understood the need for stronger euthanasia skills to increase students’ core competency of the procedure. Today, Dr. Raeann Foster leads the course forward, and with the support of the teaching hospital staff such as Trish Haak and Robyn Fox, what CAETA is teaching the students is beginning to take hold for actual hospital patients too.
A passion for better euthanasia experiences is on the rise at VA-MD, which CAETA hopes will continue to catch on nationwide. CAETA euthanasia training is also currently provided to varying degrees by Michigan State University, Lincoln Memorial University, Cornell University, Colorado State University, and more, including Canadian colleges. Colorado State has made CAETA’s 10-hour Master Program part of core curriculum; no easy feat knowing how much goes into building a college’s educational framework. With good people putting energy towards a more meaningful end-of-life experience, pet owners and their pets will be in safe hands when those final moments arrive.
Cooney K, Dickinson GE, Hoffmann H. Euthanasia Education in Veterinary Schools in the United States. J Vet Med Educ. 2021 Dec;48(6):706-709. doi: 10.3138/jvme-2020-0050. Epub 2021 Jan 25. PMID: 33493098.