An old-fashioned Pilgrim with a traditional hat and buckled shoes, donning a stethoscope — not exactly the emergency room doctor you’d want to see coming to your aid in the event of serious injuries from a car crash.

Recent billboards in Springfield, Massachusetts featured such an image and read “Baystate Medical Center: Stuck in the Past. End Animal Use for Medical Training.” Put up by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the national nonprofit that has been campaigning for decades to modernize training in medical schools and in advanced medical training programs, the ads called out the medical center’s antiquated practice of using live animals in its Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) program.

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Sheryl Becker

 

As a physician who practiced for over three decades, I am dismayed that any ATLS program still uses live animals, like pigs, for training medical professionals. Humans and pigs possess tremendously different anatomies and very different skin textures, making pigs a poor substitute for the more human-relevant training methods now available, like medical simulators or human cadavers. Would you really want the physician treating you to have learned procedures on a pig? Using pigs this way is not only much less relevant training for human care but also incredibly cruel to the pigs. Shouldn’t compassion be a part of medical training too?

Baystate already has the technology needed to eliminate animal use immediately. Baystate owns the TraumaMan System, an anatomical human body simulator, which features lifelike skin, subcutaneous fat, and muscle. This tool is so realistic, it even breathes and bleeds. Unlike the pigs used at Baystate, TraumaMan’s skin texture and anatomy are just like those of a living human’s. What’s more, the skin is replaceable, so the device allows each student a first-cut experience as well as a chance to perfect their skills by repeated practice.

It goes without saying that those caring for seriously injured trauma victims must be highly skilled in performing life-saving procedures and that effective trauma training is critically important, but it is now completely unnecessary for that training to include the use of animals. The American College of Surgeons approved the use of advanced simulation tools like TraumaMan in 2001, and multiple studies have shown that using simulators for teaching ATLS surgical skills is just as good as or even better than using animals. With 99 percent of the nearly 300 surveyed ATLS programs in the United States and Canada not finding a need to use animals for training, what is holding Baystate back?

As we near the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival, it’s amazing to realize how much society has changed in those 400 years, and how far medical technology has advanced. Shouldn’t our medical training take advantage of those advances too? Other ATLS programs in the region have done that. The University of Massachusetts Medical School replaced pigs with simulators in 2010, and Massachusetts General Hospital made the change in 2011. In fact, there are only two remaining ATLS programs in the whole United States and Canada known to use live animals, and Baystate is one of them. It’s time for Baystate to step out of the past and stop its use of live animals.

Image Source: Pixabay 

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