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Systematic review of comparative studies examining alternatives to the harmful use of animals in biomedical education

Gary J. Patronek VMD, PhD1 and Annette Rauch DVM, MS2
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  • 1 Center for Animals and Public Policy, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, North Grafton, MA 01536.
  • | 2 Center for Animals and Public Policy, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, North Grafton, MA 01536.

Abstract

Objective—To systematically review the published literature for controlled studies comparing learning outcomes of traditional methods that require the terminal use of animals (eg, dissection, live-animal surgery, and live-animal laboratory demonstrations) with outcomes obtained with alternative teaching methods.

Design—Systematic review.

Study Population—Controlled studies published between 1996 and 2004.

Procedures—PubMed was searched with the following keywords, used alone and in combination: educational alternatives, nonlethal teaching methods, veterinary alternatives, medical education, and nonterminal animal use. Cited references of retrieved reports were reviewed to identify additional reports. Reports were selected for review only if a comparison group was included.

Results—17 studies that were randomized controlled trials or nonrandomized trials that included a comparison group were identified. Five involved veterinary students, 3 involved medical students, 6 involved university undergraduate students, and 3 involved high school biology students. Sample size ranged from 14 to 283 students. Eleven studies appeared to be randomized, parallel-group trials, 4 involved comparative groups to which participants were not randomly assigned or for which the randomization process was not clear, 1 was a 2-period crossover study, and 1 involved a retrospective review of grades. In all 17 studies reviewed, results associated with the alternative method of instruction were not significantly different from or superior to results associated with the conventional method.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Although the number of controlled studies identified was small, the results seem to support more widespread adoption of alternative teaching methods in biomedical education.

Abstract

Objective—To systematically review the published literature for controlled studies comparing learning outcomes of traditional methods that require the terminal use of animals (eg, dissection, live-animal surgery, and live-animal laboratory demonstrations) with outcomes obtained with alternative teaching methods.

Design—Systematic review.

Study Population—Controlled studies published between 1996 and 2004.

Procedures—PubMed was searched with the following keywords, used alone and in combination: educational alternatives, nonlethal teaching methods, veterinary alternatives, medical education, and nonterminal animal use. Cited references of retrieved reports were reviewed to identify additional reports. Reports were selected for review only if a comparison group was included.

Results—17 studies that were randomized controlled trials or nonrandomized trials that included a comparison group were identified. Five involved veterinary students, 3 involved medical students, 6 involved university undergraduate students, and 3 involved high school biology students. Sample size ranged from 14 to 283 students. Eleven studies appeared to be randomized, parallel-group trials, 4 involved comparative groups to which participants were not randomly assigned or for which the randomization process was not clear, 1 was a 2-period crossover study, and 1 involved a retrospective review of grades. In all 17 studies reviewed, results associated with the alternative method of instruction were not significantly different from or superior to results associated with the conventional method.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Although the number of controlled studies identified was small, the results seem to support more widespread adoption of alternative teaching methods in biomedical education.

Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to Dr. Patronek.