Review from the vice-dean of undergraduate education

Big Wheel turning

Mirja RuohoniemiIn spring 2015, the University of Helsinki launched an education reform known as the Big Wheel. During the course of the reform, all the University’s degree education will be organised into degree programmes that are based on learning outcomes and place special attention on employability. The Big Wheel project is not expected to bring major changes to the Bachelor or Licentiate of Veterinary Medicine degrees. In fact, its fundamental goals are similar to those that have long guided the Faculty’s educational development efforts. Nevertheless, the reform project has already inspired discussion and planning across faculty boundaries, which certainly benefits education in our field.

Fresh perspectives on the evaluation of competence

Clinical studies provide very practical preparation for professional life, which invites us to continuously evaluate teaching, learning and competence. At the teachers’ request, the Faculty invited Kati Hakkarainen, Director of Medical Education at the University of Tampere, whom we have often consulted in our efforts to improve learning assessment, to organise a development workshop on multiple-choice questions. The workshop focused on designing multiple-choice questions to measure profound understanding and problem-solving abilities in the field of medicine. Multiple-choice questions are only one approach to evaluating competence; students also take traditional examinations and complete various practical assignments as well as OSCE examinations that assess their clinical skills at the end of their clinical year.

Counselling teacher Sanna Viitanen put in a great deal of effort to compile a single document detailing the core competence that graduating veterinarians are required to have in small animal internal medicine, small animal surgery and diagnostic imaging. The form helps fifth-year students evaluate their own skills at the end of the autumn term. The students’ self-evaluation will be stored in an online learning platform, and the next self-evaluation, carried out the following spring, will hopefully demonstrate how they have developed their competence and achieved their goals.

Reform of the clinical rotation

One of our achievements in 2015 was the new model for clinical rotation, which had been in the planning for a couple of years. The idea is to take full advantage of the diversity of patient types treated at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The previously introduced voluntary summer instruction was one step towards this goal. In the new model, designed by clinical instructor Juhani Taponen, students generally spend two weeks at a time in a unit, which allows them to return twice to most units. This allows for better management of seasonal variation: if, for example, students were unable to visit the equine unit in the spring or summer they would not gain practical experience from treating foals. The new model also introduced more elective elements into the studies and made it easier for students to carry out their municipal veterinarian training in connection with their clinical year.

Orientation to the veterinary profession    

The orientation week at the beginning of studies introduces new students to the University of Helsinki, the Viikki Campus, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The week contains a great deal of information, and over the years, the content has been modified and pruned based on feedback. In addition, students have assessed their own studies and the factors influencing them as part of the first-cycle portfolio course. In the 2015–2016 academic year, these two courses were merged into a strand that orients students to the veterinary profession and runs through their first-cycle studies. The strand combines general skills training, support for learning and veterinary medicine instruction in a meaningful way.

A few years ago, the first-year students’ visit to the Production Animal Hospital on the Saari Estate in Mäntsälä was moved to the end of the autumn term, to the last day before Christmas break. During the visit, students get to practise their anatomy and physiology skills in the cattle shed with teachers of anatomy and production animal medicine, and to hear about the teachers’ own careers. Students also form small groups to discuss the special nature of veterinary studies and to analyse their own studies, especially from the perspective of fruitful group work. A visit to nearby Joulumaa, which features a comprehensive Christmas market and a host of events, is also included in the trip to Mäntsälä. For most students, the highlight of the day is the session in the Saari Production Animal Hospital’s cattle shed where they learn more about cows. Fewer and fewer students have worked with production animals before they start their studies, so this must be taken into account in the planning and provision of studies. Greater emphasis is now placed on farm training as well as on the need to support students from different backgrounds on their “production animal path”.

Support for tricky interaction situations

Students are also encouraged to propose joint events. At the request of fourth-year students and based on topics they proposed, the Faculty organised an event in the spring to discuss tricky client and patient encounters, especially from an interactive perspective. One of the instructors was campus chaplain Laura Mäntylä, who contributed not only with her diverse professional insight but also with her experience as a dog owner.

Stakeholder reception – veterinary medicine education today

Juha Laakkonen and Mikael Niku present new educational methods.

Juha Laakkonen and Mikael Niku present new educational methods.

At the stakeholder event in October, the learning centre on the second floor of Building EE offered an ideal setting to present our teaching. Teachers were eager to participate and discuss their own fields of speciality. At the different demonstration points, our visitors could test their knowledge in an online examination offered on the food hygiene Moodle platform, obtain a detailed view of anatomy through plastinated models and virtual microscopy, discuss the evaluation of clinical skills with the help of practical examples, and consider cooperation opportunities with the Faculty in the form of Licentiate theses.

Personal sources of joy

I was bemused but pleasantly surprised to learn in May that the Finnish Veterinary Association had named me the 2015 Veterinarian of the Year. I was particularly pleased to note that others outside the Faculty also value the development of teaching and education. Our Faculty benefits from a positive attitude towards the development of teaching. Our network of supervising teachers and the members of the Teachers’ Academy have added a great deal of value and innovative ideas to our everyday collaboration, as many of the examples mentioned above demonstrate.

Mirja Ruohoniemi, Vice-Dean for Undergraduate Education
Faculty of Veterinary medicine
University of Helsinki