WesternU professor molds model, minds

Article

He's been an art professor at the University of Notre Dame, and an accomplished sculptor in his own rite, garnering as much as $10,000 for some of his work in the late 1980s. But his work crafting learning aids and procedural models for students is shaping up as his most rewarding work yet.

He's been an art professor at the University of Notre Dame, and an accomplished sculptor in his own rite, garnering as much as $10,000 for some of his work in the late 1980s. But his work crafting learning aids and procedural models for students is shaping up as his most rewarding work yet.

This visible procedure model is a rigid 3-D illustration of relevant anatomy and spatial relationships inherent in a procedure, in this case equine carpal centesis. The procedure simulator is an object built from several different kinds of material mimicking the subject anatomy. In this case, if you stick a needle in the space indicated by the "visible" model, then fluid comes out, mimicking the process of tapping an equine knee joint.

"I'm still working on my proudest accomplishment, but if this attention that I've received from my models begins to have a practical benefit on the learning process, then I don't see anything better that I could do for the industry," says Ben Kitchen, DVM, professor at Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) in Pamona, Calif.

It could prove to be his most lucrative venture, too. Vendors, government agencies and private practitioners have solicited ideas from Kitchen, and he has agreed to make prototypes for some government groups. Though he declines to disclose details about his entry-level discussions, he says models could be introduced on a large scale as soon as next year.

In the making

Kitchen began his undergraduate work with pre-veterinary study, but the art bug soon bit him. With a passion for the "idea world," he earned several degrees in fine art, including a master's degree in sculpture from the University of Illinois at Champagne. He then went to the University of Notre Dame to teach art, but he had yet to find his niche.

"I got an attack of altruism, so I decided that I had been doing art about animals, but I didn't feel that I was accomplishing anything except for some self interest," Kitchen says. "Professing is modern society's patron for artists, but I wasn't selfish enough to stay with it because I wanted my work to be more practical; I was too detached from the world, and I wanted to get more involved."

Kitchen went on to teach at The Ohio State University's (OSU) art department, where he worked his way through veterinary school. It was as a student at OSU that Kitchen began crafting learning aids with some of his professors. "Veterinary school was where I began thinking about this concept of learning veterinary medical procedures without hurting animals," he says.

Now, Kitchen is being sought after for the skills and expertise that he has accrued by making learning aids during the past two decades. "I'm making a series of articular injection models of horse joints that people can study and stick needles into, flex them and instill anesthetic agents and other procedures to learn," Kitchen says. "I make plastic bones and use rubber for the soft tissue so that it has not only the look but the feel of a real animal.

"One of the things that we've learned in education is the nature of the students; they don't immediately jump on self-referential objects right away. If it doesn't look and feel like an animal, then they don't really get into it."

Advancing education

Currently, Kitchen and other WesternU professors are developing tools intended to grow about 20 skill sets that are applicable to the lion's share of medical procedures. He says because the university's veterinary medical program is new, it has the ability to tackle new ideas and change with the demands of the industry, such as the need for evidence-based medicine.

"Ultimately, we are trying to help students learn about the education process because it's a motivation of this school to encourage and graduate life-long learners; the practice changes so quickly that it is imperative to stay on top of the information," Kitchen says. "Information is fleeting, so you must accept the responsibility that you must learn continually."

The real goal in education, he adds, is to prepare future veterinarians to perform procedures they have only read about and teach them to incorporate the work into practice. "This is a big paradigm shift that has been addressed in the knowledge format of learning," Kitchen says. "We are looking at learning from a problem-solving angle, and we're starting to do that in the psychomotor world by asking people to exercise problem-solving skills and think about conducting procedures based on the best evidence they have available at the time in conjunction with problem-solving techniques that are applicable to many medical procedures."

True to form

Vendors and government groups have been courting academia to help burden the costs of better medical-education tools. Kitchen continues to make sculptures, and although art and medicine might seem like an unlikely mix, he says the two disciplines are about the same thing.

"Art is really about ideas," he says. "People keep asking me how I can be a scientist and an artist, but I think each discipline's goal is about the same: to understand the universe," he says. "They do that in different ways, but the motivations are the same."

Related Videos
Managing practice caseloads
Nontraditional jobs for veterinary technicians
Angela Elia, BS, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)
Honey bee
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.