Dr. Trisha Dowling named Teaching Scholar

trish dowling

Dr. Trish Dowling

For the second year in a row, WCVM professor Dr. Trisha Dowling has been named a Teaching Scholar of the Centre for Discovery in Learning by the University of Saskatchewan’s Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (GMCTE).

Dowling, a faculty member in the WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, has received a $2,000 grant to carry out a project designed to improve university teaching and learning. Combined with the grant she received last year, Dowling has received a total of $4,000 to support the development of a popular new third-year elective course, “Mindful Veterinary Practice,” and to conduct research measuring the value of the course to veterinary students.

Mindful Veterinary Practice (or MVP) emphasizes mindfulness training, a concept that Dowling encountered in 2009 when she was introduced to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The program, which encourages life balance and self care, was first developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979 and is now offered in more than 100 North American medical schools.

“The documented benefits include reduced psychological distress, increased empathy, increased working memory capacity and attention, improved patient care and reduced medical errors,” says Dowling. “But it does not appear to have been taught in any veterinary college until now.”
When the WCVM revised its curriculum and added a variety of elective courses to the third-year program, Dowling seized the opportunity to introduce the program to veterinary students.

She developed MVP, a seven-week course that promotes the understanding and practice of mindfulness exercises and covers a variety of topics ranging from conflict management to stress and suicide in veterinary students and practicing veterinarians.

The class includes group discussions that provide a chance for students to share their experiences regarding mindfulness practices. “They discuss the effects of the practices on various aspects of their lives, including management of chronic pain, eating, sleeping, and personal conflicts as well as time and information technology management,” explains Dowling.

Her research, which compared the performance of students who took the class to those who did not, indicates that the MVP participants demonstrate significant improvement in a number of key areas including conflict resolution and self-reported mindfulness.

“These results suggest that mindfulness training for veterinary students may help protect against attentional lapses in their medical practice and protect against emotional states that may lead to burnout during their highly stressful professional training,” says Dowling.

Positive student feedback reinforces the value of the program and is gratifying for Dowling who has benefited personally from mindfulness practice and considers it a privilege to bring the same benefits to veterinary students.

Dowling is convinced of the need for improving the self-care skills of both veterinary students and practicing veterinarians. Medical professionals she meets at teaching and research conferences on mindfulness are often startled to hear that veterinarians have the highest suicide rate of all health care professionals.

“They assume we must be happy because we work with animals,” she says, “but then I explain that we have a client and a patient — and they’re not the same thing. Sometimes we can cure the patient, but the client doesn’t have enough money to treat their animal, so we have to euthanize our patient. Then they understand.”

Dowling plans to continue her training in mindfulness with the goal of receiving full teacher certification from the University of Massachusetts’s Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society. Back at home, she is very grateful for the many learning opportunities offered by the GMCTE — including the chance to meet Dr. John Thompson, a professor emeritus of sociology at the university, a few years ago. Since then, the 2005 3M Teaching Fellow and 2004 U of S Master Teacher has become Dowling’s personal mentor.

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