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Why Themes?

Developing our course in Veterinary Medicine and Literature posed some unexpected challenges. The initial idea was for the course to encompass many of the same issues as in the human medicine and literature curricula, with the adaptation, deletion, and addition of specific topics.

As a case in point, the doctor-human patient relationship was expanded into three relationships: the doctor-patient relationship, the doctor-client relationship, and the relationship between the doctor and the client-animal relationship. However, the volume and range of possible selections soon became too great for a week-long course and too wide-ranging to shape into a coherent whole. For example, at least 8 collections of poems about dogs had been published in the last three years. Culling selections, we began to feel that if anything the topic of veterinary medicine and literature was a wider one than its human medicine counterpart.

To address this problem, themes were defined that tied into the objectives, the context of the students' lives, and the interests of the instructors. The readings and class schedule were organized around these themes, starting from a theme with immediate relevance to the students, "the transformation", which also worked well as a transition from the standard medical curriculum into the realm of literature. The course moved on to themes such as client communication, the human-animal bond, dying, death and grief, and then ended with "retaining purpose and joy", one of the key objectives of the class.

The organizing themes provide a flexible scheme around which specific selections can be added or removed to accommodate local concerns, emerging issues, and new writings, without losing organization or focus. Although developed for pedagogical coherence, the themes relate to the facets of a veterinarian's life—doctor, scientist, animal owner—and could be the basis for discussion groups.

List of Themes

  • The transformation-from past lives to veterinary students to veterinarians
  • Client communication
  • The human-animal bond
  • First, do no harm
  • Why write?
  • Finding and telling your stories
  • Dying, death, and grief
  • Being a scientist
  • Retaining purpose and joy

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