Friday, November 11, 2011

I've been debating whether or not to post about this

In the Nov. 1st issue of JAVMA, there was a pretty scathing letter written by Dr. Robert Marshak about how WesternU, Ross, and UNAM don't deserve to be accredited.  For reference, the AVMA's accreditation requirements can be found here. 

Basically, his argument comes down to a couple poorly supported points, which I'll point out below.  However, I've spent enough time on the internet to know that the #1 rule is YOU DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS. And I kind of feel like I'm breaking that rule by even giving his letter the time of day.    

He doesn't think that a college that solely concentrates on health sciences counts as an "institution of higher learning," according to a definition that he says " generally accepted that an institution of higher learning is a community of scholars with many branches of advanced learning, including the foundational sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology), the humanities, and the arts."

Now, an institution of higher learning has a pretty strict legal definition that can be found here.  According to that definition, DeVry is an institution of higher learning.  Pima is an institute of higher learning.  Pretty much any college or vocational program that grants degrees is, not just the standard public or private universities that you typically picture when you think of a college.  The legal definition for that is pretty low - I mean, red-flag schools that advertise on late-night cable meet the legal definition.  But Dr. Marshak made up his own definition, then decided that WesternU didn't meet it.  In constructing arguments, is there a logical fallacy name for blatantly making shit up?  It's the same kind of dishonest arguments creationists use when they whine "but evolution's just a theory!"

His next problem with Western's vet program is that we don't have an on-campus teaching hospital.  However, the accreditation standards say a school must have "[a]n accredited college must maintain an on-campus veterinary teaching hospital(s), or have formal affiliation with one or more off-campus veterinary hospitals used for teaching."  I really do understand the concern that we don't have an official teaching hospital. However, as wonderful as it would be to have top of the line technology at your fingertips, I don't necessarily think that the teaching hospital model is superior.  What good is learning to diagnose with full access to MRIs and computed tomography, when in real life day-to-day practice, your clients won't be able to afford that standard of care?  We do rotate through specialty practices that have all the bells and whistles, so we'll have exposure to it, but we're exposed to real world veterinary medicine with its peaks and pitfalls.  He may see it as a downfall.  It's one of the main reasons I chose to go here instead of the other veterinary school I was accepted to with its shiny updated teaching hospital.  I don't want to be crippled by relying on diagnostic tools that I won't have access to 99.9% of the time.  

One of Dr. Marshak's other problems is our on-campus Banfield.  Yes, we do have a Banfield on campus.  No, I'm not crazy about the idea of mixing corporations with education.  However, from my rotations there, there are only two things about the clinic that scream "corporate medicine!"  One is the sign on the outside of the building.  The second is Banfield's charting and practice management software.  Contrary to popular belief, the software does not dictate treatment.  The veterinarians on staff do, just as any other veterinarian decides a treatment plan.  We use it only for the medical charting. I have my own beefs with the software. Mainly, the fact that I like to imagine the code was written by troglodytes who haven't touched a computer since they owned a Commodore 64, and don't know logical keyboard shortcuts, or the concept of user-friendliness.  I spend a total of 8 hours a semester there, and third year will spend a few weeks there.  I'm not being indoctrinated into the cult of corporate medicine.  If anything, it's teaching me why I will never work at a Banfield, so I don't get desperate and make that mistake once I graduate.  

He then complains that "as far as he is aware," we don't have PhD, masters or residency programs that tie into the vet school.  Now, we may not have as many as other schools, but we do have a partnership with the University of Minnesota for a masters of public health degree, and WesternU offers masters in biomedical sciences and pharmaceutical sciences.  As far as residencies, I only know of one veterinarian who is working on her radiology residency here, but as somebody who keeps their head down and doesn't know what's going on around me half the time, just because I'm only aware of one person, doesn't mean there aren't more hiding where I don't see them (and it doesn't mean that there are others.)  Unlike Dr. Marshak, I don't just get to say "as far as I'm aware," then make shit up instead of looking it up.  Or maybe I should, this could be a fun game.  "As far as I'm aware, Dr. Marshak doesn't NOT have a tail."  Yeah, not the soundest argument.  I think I learned that you can't plead ignorance as a debate tool when I was in middle school.  

Dr. Marshak's next argument is the obligatory jab at our problem based learning curriculum, based off of an appeal to tradition.  Or as he puts it, "I question that such heavy emphasis on the problem-based learning method can provide, in a discipline-based, orderly, and concise manner, the solid foundation that students need when they enter clinical training."  Basically, the "Hey you young whippersnappers, get offa my lawn" argument.  I get it.  It's new.  It's scary.  It's why I came here.  Yes, there are days when I would kill just to be told what I'm expected to know, and be spoonfed a lecture on certain topics.  But those days are few and far between.  I'm sure if I were at KSU instead, I'd be struggling to stay awake during lectures, and tempted to skip class and catch up on my own.  There's no one solution for everybody.  Different strategies work for different people, and if you haven't experienced it, it's hard to understand it.  

When WesternU was brand-spankin' new, our NAVLE (national board) scores were looked at under a microscope.  The first class had a pass rate of 86%.  The next two to graduate had a pass rate of 93%.  Last year's class had a rate of 97%.  Dr. Marshak begs the question, and has decided that since there's such high pass rates, that obviously the test must be too easy, and isn't a good representation of the education we get here.  It's been considered adequate for years upon years - until we do well at it.  Then it's suddenly a bad measure of competency.  I don't know if I can roll my eyes hard enough.  

Dr. Marshak then goes on to make some common sense arguments for transparency and accountability in the process of accrediting vet schools.  Which would have been a fine couple of paragraphs on their own, that don't necessarily relate to his massive bashing of a few select schools that preceded it.  

He then concludes his letter with a "sky is falling," xenophobic, bleak view of the future of the profession, and ends with a slippery slope argument that somehow we're paving the way for the profession to go to hell in a handbasket.  

Ok, I get it.  New ways of doing things scare Dr. Marshak.  Hell, he's from the University of Pennsylvania, where I hear from SDN that they still teach their first years in a (poorly climate controlled) brick room that was around when the school opened 100 years ago.  Change scares him.  But the veterinary world is not static, thank god, or else we'd still be in the dark ages, instead of close on the heels of the best human medicine.  WesternU's an experiment in progress.  Will this school get everything perfect, all the time?  Hell no, it's run by fallible humans.  But I can sure as hell guarantee that every single school in this country has its flaws, along with their strengths.  Our vet program has only had 4 graduating classes to date.  It will take years for enough of us to get out into practice, and prove ourselves.  But by then, it might be too late for old curmudgeons to realize that they've been left in the dust.   

I probably shouldn't have even acknowledged that letter.  I don't think it deserved the 30 minutes it took to type that response.  But at least 1500 people read this blog every month.  Some of those might be veterinarians, or students at other schools with access to the original JAVMA article, who might want to get a glimpse into the faults of Dr. Marshak's arguments.  And now 1500 people can realize that sometimes I can't resist feeding the trolls.  

1 comment:

  1. Um, PBL is one of the only things that helps me solidify what I learn in lecture. It's becoming the norm in a lot of AVMA accredited schools. I'm at RVC, which does a lot of PBL, and I applied to Tufts, another school that is starting to lean more on PBL. So he's basically not following current thought on teaching, which is ridiculous. Just because it's not the way he learned in school does not mean that it shouldn't be used.

    Ugh, trolls. There's just more and more of them every day.