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Students’ beliefs in animal sentience: no decline across veterinary education
  1. N. Clarke, BSc, MSc, PhD, GCHE,
  2. D. C. J. Main, BVetMed, PhD, certVR, DWEL, DipECAWBM(AWSEL), MRCVS and
  3. E. S. Paul, BSc, PhD
  1. School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, Langford House, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, UK
  1. E-mail for correspondence: nancyclarke @worldanimalprotection.org

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PROGRESS through veterinary education has been linked anecdotally with ‘emotional hardening’, in which students’ concern, respect and compassion for animals are reduced (eg, Lawrence 1997, Karafokas 2011, Tiplady 2012). Blackshaw and Blackshaw (1993) found that Australian students perceived the process of veterinary education to be one of passage from sentimental client to cold-hearted clinician. And in apparent confirmation of this, surveys conducted in veterinary schools in the USA and Britain have shown that students in the early stages of veterinary education differ from their final-stage peers. Hellyer and others (1999) found a reduced willingness to treat animals for pain in fourth-year veterinary students compared with second-year students. And Paul and Podberscek (2000) found that first-year veterinary students rated the sentience of dogs, cats and cows (but not pigs) more highly than did final-year students. They hypothesised that the process of veterinary education involves the learning of attitudinal norms as well as scientific facts; a process that in human medicine has been referred to as the ‘hidden curriculum’ (Hafferty 1998). Specifically, it was suggested that veterinary students may develop increasingly Cartesian views of animals—as more machine-like and less person-like—as they move towards the role of a fully trained veterinary professional.

However, it remains uncertain whether these cross-sectional findings are indicative of a genuine change in the beliefs of individual students occurring during veterinary education or …

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