For the Flint Animal Cancer Center’s clinical team, one silver lining to the global pandemic has been the opportunity to reimagine the teaching model for fourth-year veterinary students.

“The move to 100 percent online instruction was chaotic,” said Dr. Susan Lana, Stuart Chair in Oncology and oncology service chief. “But it gave us a chance to review the clinical curriculum and the things that were most important for student learning.”

The quick turn to digital instruction was led by FACC medical oncologist and former resident Dr. Kate Vickery. She rejoined the team in January 2020 to fill a newly created position made possible by the Stuart Chair in Oncology.

“We hired Kate to help us implement a dual service model, one with a teaching focus and the other with a clinical focus,” said Lana. “Kate’s position was designed to help support DVM student learning.”

“I left private practice to work with students,” said Vickery. “I never imagined that two months into the job, I would be part of making such monumental changes, but I jumped in to ensure the senior students, who had worked so hard for nearly four years, could finish out their training.”

After the dust settled and the class of 2020 graduated, Vickery formed a committee, including surgical and radiation oncology faculty and house officers, to think about moving forward with the teaching service model.


Veterinary oncology learning experience


A new class of fourth-year students started in-person clinics in July 2020, with several COVID-related restrictions in place, including patient drop-off in the parking lot and physical distancing within the clinic.

In the past, senior students managed five or more patients per day, but COVID protocols made that model more complicated. As a result, Vickery and the team decided to try something new, with students following fewer patients from start to finish.

“Students have just two weeks on our complex and busy service to complete learning goals to prepare them to be day one ready practitioners,” said Vickery. “The committee thought, what if students were responsible for fewer patients and could then have time to walk with them through every step of the diagnostic workups and treatment – scrubbing in on their surgery, watching chemotherapy administration, or learning about radiation therapy planning – could that be a richer experience?”

So, they gave it a try. The system starts with a phone call to a new client the night before the first visit to the FACC. During the phone call, the student takes down patient information, reviews records from the primary veterinarian and other diagnostic test results.

“The phone call helps the students prepare for the visit, but we think it also benefits our clients, especially during COVID because they can’t come in the building,” said Vickery. “When they meet the student in the parking lot the next day, they already have a connection, and that can provide comfort when they hand their pet off.”

The model has also improved efficiency. With the patient history in hand, students and faculty use morning rounds to plan the patient’s day, even before they walk in the door.

Student-focused afternoon rounds provide another learning opportunity. During this time, each student presents their patient’s case to a team of faculty. Next, the faculty lead an in-depth discussion on each patient’s cancer type. Students also learn more about the expected costs for treatment and talk about the things they might see in practice after graduation.

“The curriculum is continuing to evolve as we receive feedback from students,” said Vickery. “Overall, the foundation has been laid, and the response has been positive.”

“I’m grateful to Kate and the committee and also to the Stuart family for making it all possible,” said Lana.