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February 13, 2011 at 4:00 PM

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UW med school under scrutiny for ferret use

Posted by Letters editor

University should use modern simulation for training

As a cardiologist who helped write the USDA complaint against the University of Washington’s use of ferrets for pediatrics training, I want to correct a statement made by the course instructor and clarify why our organization opposes this practice [“Group faults UW’s use of ferrets at med school,” page one, Feb. 10].

Dr. Dennis Mayock claims that the alternatives available for teaching neonatal intubation are not adequate, but a proper search would have revealed excellent non-animal methods that are widely used and appropriate for teaching intubation of premature infants. One simulator, Laerdal’s SimNewB, can simulate 20 different stabilization scenarios including resuscitation of a very premature newborn. UW already owns this simulator.

Gaumard’s PREMIE Blue and Premie HAL simulators are anatomically precise premature neonate models specifically designed to allow trainees to practice intubation and many other critical procedures for these tiny patients.

Numerous studies have shown that simulators are educationally superior to using animals, and the vast majority of pediatrics programs do not use animals for training purposes. I hope UW soon switches to modern simulation to provide their residents with the best possible training.

— John J. Pippin, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, D.C.

UW pediatrics should abandon this practice

The complaint by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against the University of Washington under the Animal Welfare Act for its use of live ferrets in teaching endotracheal intubation to pediatric residents is but a single example of the difficult dilemma of when and how to use animals in medical research and education [“Group faults UW’s use of ferrets at med school,” page one, Feb. 10]. The rational and humane guidelines state that animals should not be used if a reliable and effective alternative exists and if the use of any animal causes more than momentary or slight pain or distress.

Excellent simulators for pediatric intubation exist including SimNewB which very precisely imitates a newborn 7-pound, 21-inch baby. The preference of University of Washington course directors for the ferret over simulators is a matter of experience and personal preference but no evidence exists that either method produces a superior trainee at intubation, and the very persuasive argument against the use of animals is that 133 of the 152 pediatric training programs surveyed have completely abandoned the use of animals.

It is absurd to state that repeated endotracheal intubation, very often by inexperienced and occasionally, marginally competent trainees causes no discomfort to the ferrets. Endotracheal intubation is recognized as among the most painful procedures that small children must undergo, and bleeding, bruising, airway compromise and death are experienced by these animals.

It is time for UW pediatrics to join the vast majority of its colleagues in abandoning the use of animals in its education.

— Robert G. Stagman, Mercer Island

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