Johns Hopkins School of Medicine ends use of live animals for surgical training

JHU was one of two medical schools in U.S., Canada still using live animals for medical education

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine will end its use of live animals in medical education, school officials announced Wednesday.

For many years, surgical procedures on live pigs have been part of the core clerkship in surgery for Hopkins medical students at Hopkins. But the School of Medicine is now joining the nationwide trend of switching entirely to computer simulations for such training.

"Given that almost all medical schools have stopped using live animals in medical student education and that the experience is not essential, the School of Medicine has decided that the use of live animals in the surgical clerkship should stop," school officials wrote in a message sent to students Wednesday.

"We did not come to this decision lightly," they added, describing the involved process by which the university arrived at the policy change, which goes into effect this quarter.

Officials convened a task force last year to examine the practice of using live pigs, which many students felt added value to their education, but nonetheless remained "the most publicly controversial aspect of our medical school experience," officials said.

As part of the curriculum, students have performed complex non-survival surgical procedures on pigs, working in teams under the supervision of surgical faculty and veterinary technicians.

After months of research and surveys, the task force—composed of students and educators from both inside and outside of Johns Hopkins—ultimately concluded that the laboratory experience with live animals "is not essential to the professional development of a medical student."

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has fought against the use of animals in medical training for the past decade, yesterday cheered the move. According to the committee, the decision leaves the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as the only remaining medical school in the U.S. and Canada that uses live animals for training.

When the committee first launched its campaign 10 years ago, 30 medical schools out of 197 polled in the U.S. and Canada still used live animals for training, The Baltimore Sun reported.