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To evaluate the role of simulation models and previous surgical experience on subjective and objective stress levels of students performing their 1st elective surgery within the veterinary curriculum.


141 third-year veterinary students


Using a pre–post experimental design, salivary alpha-amylase, and cortisol were evaluated as markers of physiologic stress response before students’ first elective surgery. Student self-reported State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) scores and quantitative measures of experience were correlated to biomarker results.


No association was found for change in salivary biomarkers of stress, alpha-amylase, and cortisol, between baseline and presurgical samples accounting for gender, age, type of elective surgery performed, previous surgical experience, or simulation model use. Salivary cortisol levels were markedly elevated falling between the 66th and 99th percentile compared to an age and gender-matched population. Salivary alpha-amylase levels were also 2 to 3 times higher than those recorded by other health professionals. Veterinary student STAI scores were high falling between the 65th and 73rd percentile compared to working adults in the general population.


Veterinary students’ salivary cortisol, alpha-amylase, and STAI scores fell into the upper 2/3rds of the general population, demonstrating a high level of stress. Simulation models and previous surgical experience were not associated with decreased stress. Further evaluation of the implementation of high-fidelity simulation models and the role of stress on performance is indicated.

Open access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research