Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.1, 35-38
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 35
The Teaching of Veterinary Surgery Medicine in Northwest
A&F University
De-Zhang Lu, Xin-Wu Ma, Yu-Hua Zhang, Ming Li
Department of Veterinary Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Northwest A&F University,
Yangling, China
Received October 11th, 2012; revised November 15th, 2012; accepted November 28th, 2012
Veterinary surgery medicine (VSM) is a core subject and important clinical discipline for undergraduate
students of veterinary science. The present paper reviews current information about the teaching of VSM
in Northwest A&F University, presents a description of the veterinary science curriculum, suggests
methods to improve the quality of VSM teaching in Northwest A&F University, and describes difficulties,
problems, and trends in veterinary education in Northwest A&F University.
Keywords: Northwest A&F University; Veterinary Surgery Medicine; Curriculum
In order to judge the importance and value of teaching vet-
erinary surgery medicine (VSM), there is a need to define what
surgery is and hence what constitutes the teaching of VSM. For
many people the term surgery equates with the physical proce-
dure of operating. When one defines “Surgery” in narrow terms
as Veterinary medical knowledge and techniques are interre-
lated throughout the world. However it is evident that the edu-
cational and training systems for veterinarians in each country
are quite dissimilar when evaluated against each other.
This is the vision for Northwest A&F University veterinary
medical education system: that advancements be made towards
serving the needs of society as well as a gradual transformation
of veterinary programs to create efficient, knowledgeable, and
qualified veterinarians for new generations.
Northwest A&F University is a national key comprehensive
university directly under the jurisdiction of Chinese Ministry of
Education. The College of Veterinary Medicine is one of the
traditional competitive colleges in Northwest A&F University,
whose history can track back to the Teaching and Research
Section of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine in the
National Northwest Junior College of Agriculture and Forestry
founded in 1936 in the Yangling, Shanxi Province and was the
first high level institution for modern agricultural education in
northwest China. After more than 70 years’ construction and
development, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine has formed a
multi-level teaching system with undergraduate education as
the main body and postgraduate educati o n a s the direction.
The first recognized veterinary school in China was estab-
lished in 1910 in the Baoding, Hebei Province. Originally
named as the “Farriery Division” its course of study was pri-
marily based upon equine diseases due to the importance of
horses as the means of transportation and communication in
ancient China (Yin et al., 2006).
In the past decades, the teaching of veterinary surgery medi-
cine at Northwest A&F University curriculum has undergone
considerable changes in quantity, mode and method of delivery.
This is a result of the radical reforms of higher education, the
health service and the veterinary medical curriculum. As part of
its strategy for the years 2008-2013, the Faculty of Veterinary
Medicine in Northwest A&F University decided to carry out a
comprehensive evaluation of its education and degree system
during 2011-2013.
Purpose and Requisite of VSM Teaching in
Northwest A&F University
VSM (veterinary surgery medicine) is a combination of sci-
ence and technical skill, and few would deny that education in
both areas is critical to the proper development of a vet (Smeak,
2007). The pedagogical structure in Northwest A&F Univer-
sity has students devoting much of their early professional
education to developing a firm foundation of anatomy, histol-
ogy, pathology, and the fundamental principles of surgery.
When they approach their intensive practice, students to apply
this knowledge as the basis for clinical problem solving, to
form appropriate differential diagnoses, and to make proper
management decisions about their sick animals.
VSM (veterinary surgery medicine) in Northwest A&F Uni-
versity aims to ensure that students achieve the following ob-
1) Comprehend VSM and gain theoretical knowledge of the
dam aging, surgical sepsis and other general surgical disease etc.,
but also special disease such as tumour, eyes disease, tooth
disease, orthopedic and joint diseases etc;
2) Understand the mechanisms, clinical characteristics, diag-
nostic methods, examination techniques, therapies, and preven-
tion approaches of the principal diseases of veterinary surgery;
3) Integrate theory and practice by using case teachings, such
as clinical case explanations and causes of a particular disease,
as much as possible.
Delivery and Topics of VSM Courses in
Northwest A&F University
VSM in Northwest A&F University is usually taught in one
semester of the fourth year in five-year veterinary science pro-
grams. Students take about 72 lecture hours, including 56 theo-
retical teaching lecture hours devoted to theoretical teaching of
VSM-related diseases, 16 experimental teaching lecture hours,
and one week of intensive practice in university affiliated ani-
mal hospitals. In other countries, animal hospitals affiliated
with universities always include a large-animal hospital, horse
hospital, farm-animal hospital, and small-animal hospital
(Smeak et al., 1991). But In Northwest A&F University, two
animal affiliated hospitals are mixed practices.
When a new subject is taught, the teacher gives a general in-
troduction; discusses its importance; and focuses on common
causes, clinical symptoms and signs, clinicopathology, methods
of diagnosis, operation approach, treatment, and precautions.
(see Tables 1 and 2). Domestic animals—such as cattle, horses,
and pigs—are always treated as pathomodels in the past in
China (Yin et al., 2006). In recent years, many diseases of small
animals, such as dogs and cats, have been included. Cows and
horses are seldom used due to their economic value. Experi-
mental content usually follows the end of the corresponding
subject, covering intensive fundamental knowledge and practi-
cal skills training. When the course is over, students are re-
quired to take part in a clinical practice course before the end of
the semester in an animal hospital affiliated with the university
to solidify their knowledge of VSM.
Assessment of Students’ Performance in VSM
Northwest A&F University establishes a protocol to assess a
student’s performance in VSM. Students undergo two examina-
tions, once at the end of the semester, which account for
60% of their final marks; the other at the end of the clinical
practice course, which account for 20% of their final marks. In
addition, students’ performance in VSM accounts for another
20% of their final marks, and includes attendance and presenta-
tions of classroom. The end-of-semester examination usually
covers the entire subject, but emphasis is placed on the more
important aspects of VSM.
Evolution of VSM Training
VSM is much more of a global term and the teaching of
VSM also includes learning about specific clinical conditions
such as the acute abdomen, surgical emergencies such as gastric
torsion and trauma, and gaining more exposure to seriously ill
animals that may well require a surgical procedure (Griffon et
al., 2000). Exposure to these conditions also trains the student’s
mind in careful, accurate assessment and rapid decision-making.
Exposure to common “surgical” problems such as skin lesions,
“lumps and bumps” and hernias can also be beneficial for the
overall education of the student.
It is also important to recognize that surgical teaching is not
restricted to the operating theatre (Agha et al., 2005). The stu-
dents also see sick animals in clinic, where accompanying
medical students can learn the generic skills of taking histories,
doing clinical examinations and ordering the appropriate invest-
tigations. Whilst a surgical rotation or environment is not the
only place to gain such generic skills, it certainly does provide a
good opportunity for their acquisition. Animal hospitals can
form a good learning environment with animals often having
clear histories and prominent physical signs (Burns et al. 2006).
Table 1.
Topics taught in VSM (veterinary surgery me d icine) courses in Northwest A&F University.
Chapter Topics
1 Overview of VSM: concept, task, contents, development, and how to study VSM
2 Surgical trauma: wound , contusion, shock, ulcer, sinus, fistula, necrosis, gangrene
3 Surgical infection: summary, Local infection, Systemic infection
4 Tumor: summary, classi fi cation, etiology, epidemiology, diagnosis and therap
5 Rheumatism, ophthalmopathy, otopathy , nasal disease, pharyn g eal para l ysis, dental diseases
6 Cervical diseases, esophageal diseases and tracheal diseases
7 Thoracic diseases, abdominal diseases and spinal diseases
8 Hernia, urogenital disea ses
9 Extremities diseases
10 Dermatosis
Table 2.
Experimental content in VSM (veterinary surgery medicine) courses in Northwest A&F University.
Experiment Topics
1 Trauma: definition, etiopathogenesis, pathogenesis, clinical symptoms and signs, methods of diagnosis, treatment, and precautions
2 Surgical infection: definition, etiopathogenesis, pathogenesis, clinical symptoms and signs, methods of diagnosis, treatme n t , and pr ecautions
3 Dental diseases: definition, eti o pathogenesis, patho g enesis, clinical symptoms and signs, m ethods of diagnosis, treatment, and precautions
4 Extremities diseases: pathogenesis, clinical symptoms and signs, methods of diagnosis, treatment, and precautions of both
5 Dermatosis : p athogenesis, clini cal symptoms and si g ns , methods of diagnosis, treatment, and precautions of both
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Students also have the opportunity to build on their commu-
nication skills and learn how to explain complex procedures
and prognosis as well as gain consent or break bad news empa-
thetically and in a way the anxious or even depressed animals’
owners can understand. This setting also improves a student’s
knowledge of the indications for a particular operation, the
limitations of surgery as well as its curative value. Students
have also been shown to gain significant knowledge and skills
in this environment (Kogan et al., 2004).
The operating theatre in animal hospitals provides a unique
educational experience for students, allowing for the integration
and consolidation of knowledge. There is a need for students to
observe normal and abnormal tissues as well as procedures
directly in order to gain a true understanding of what is in-
volved and how anatomy relates to pathology (Routly et al.,
2002). Furthermore, the student will not have the opportunity to
see such a wide variety of surgical procedures again once
classroom are concluded. The concept of the multidisciplinary
team also comes to life in the operating theatre, as the whole
team is in the same room at the same time with the maintenance
of a professional interaction for the benefit of the sick animals
(Lyon, 2003).
Following conclusion of the operation, students may have the
opportunity to learn about post-operative complications and the
need for careful, regular observation and contingency planning.
The criteria needed for discharge together with the deci-
sion-making skills involved are also developed to a fuller de-
gree on a surgical firm (Reznick & MacRae, 2006). The entire
surgical spectrum from clinic to longterm follow-up provides
the student with special insights into animals care and the op-
portunity at each stage to see the direct application of the prin-
ciples of anatomy and physiology to clinical practice; each time
relating the visible pathology and the clinical scenario to their
background knowledge and understanding. Furthermore the
student has the opportunity to consider with others the impor-
tant ethical, moral, legal and psychosocial issues related to
surgery including discussions on cost-benefit analysis which
tend to be particularly acute in surgical practice (Polk, 1999).
Difficulties of VSM Teaching in Northwest
A&F University
With the adjustment of the policy of higher education, the
health service and the veterinary medical curriculum to North-
west A&F University and the economic development of the
past two decades, more students have the opportunity to com-
plete a BVM (Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine) curriculum
(there are approximately 180 students gain BVM in Northwest
A&F University every year). Although Northwest A&F Uni-
versity has invested more financial support than ever before,
there remain many difficulties and problems in teaching VSM.
Some of the primary ones are outlined below.
Shortage of Teaching Resources
Currently in China, infectious diseases predominate in hus-
bandry and cause large losses every year, and preventive vet-
erinary medicine is regarded as extremely important. With the
development of the economy, Chinese central and municipal
governments have given increasing financial support to North-
west A&F University. Because clinical veterinary medicine is
regarded as relatively unimportant, however, it is difficult to
develop a large enough financial budget for clinical veterinary
medicine teaching (Li et al., 2011). Sophisticated diagnostic
tools such as two-dimensional echocardiography, laparoscopy,
and magnetic resonance imaging are not used in VSM teaching
in Northwest A&F University because of economic reasons.
Less Instruction Time for VSM
In veterinary curricula, the instruction time for VSM (in-
cluding classroom teaching and clinical practice) is much lower
than that in other curricula, such as the veterinary microbiology
and veterinary parasitology. This damages the quality of VSM
teaching and has a negative impact on students’ knowledge and
Lack of Enough Well -Qualified Teachi ng Staff
Because it is difficult for VSM teachers to apply for research
funding, is not considered to be a promising academic career.
This frustrates young teachers devoted to teaching VSM. In
order to earn money, VSM teachers engage in clinical veteri-
nary medicine and concentrate on money, but doing so takes
attention away from teaching and research.
Trends in Teaching VIM in Northwest A&F
Although there are many difficulties in the process, teachers
have undertaken reform measures in teaching VSM in North-
west A&F University in order to match the quality of teaching
VSM in other areas of the world.
Increasing Use of Multimedia Facilities
Currently, multime dia faciliti es are being extensi vely used in
teaching VSM in Northwest A&F University. Web-based
teaching offers students the opportunity to access teaching ma-
terials and feedback at any time as well as the advantage of the
more vivid and direct presentation of subject matter (Dascanio,
New VSM Subjects
With developments in husbandry, some animal surgery dis-
eases have become increasingly important (Li et al., 2011). To
cope with this change, new subjects those are relevant to VSM,
such as orthopedic and joint diseases and animal dermatosis,
have been developed as independent and elective disciplines in
some developed countries.
Updating the Content o f V SM
In the last century, VSM in China has focused on the dis-
eases of Domestic animals - such as cattle, horses, and pigs,
With the increasing number of companion animals such as dogs,
cats, and birds, issues that are relevant to companion animals,
shelter medicine, and welfare are now emphasized in VSM
Future Considerations for Teaching VSM in
Northwest A&F University
Problem-based learning (PBL) is well aligned and is thought
to form an ideal learning environment encompassing the prin-
ciples of learning in a practical way (Lane, 2008). Northwest
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 37
A&F University should move towards incorporating more
prob- lem-based learning into our VSM curriculum and ensure
that the curriculum prepares candidates well for the assessments.
Students may not get fully involved in this form of teaching as
it is further away from the traditional clinical environments of
operative teaching. Northwest A&F University must actively
encourage the participation of students in their PBL programs.
In addition, we hope to provide more exposure to small ani-
mals’ surgery at our VSM curricula, and conduct other common
surgical procedures, if more funding for our reforms of VSM
curricula. Because of the popularity of the surgery experience,
opportunities for an additional week of this animal surgical
experience are also being considered.
Concluding Remarks
Although there are many difficulties in teaching VSM, the
quality of VSM education has greatly increased in Northwest
A&F University with the help of school, teachers and students’
efforts. We understand that there is still a large gap between the
quality of VSM teaching in Northwest A&F University and that
in most developed countries. China is a developing country and
the developing Chinese economy provides options and oppor-
tunities for veterinary education. We believe that with the sup-
port of Chinese central and local governments and the pains-
taking efforts of Northwest A&F University teachers and stu-
dents engaged in VSM teaching, the quality of VSM teach- ing
will improve dramatically in Northwest A&F University.
This study supported by the Foundation for Talent of North-
west A&F University (Grant No. Z109021110).
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