Equine Joint Injection Simulator Created for Vet Students

Equine Joint Injection Simulator Created for Vet Students

Using what seems like a high-tech version of the child's game "Operation," some veterinary students can now practice giving equine joint injections using a simulator constructed of foam, rubber bands, nylon tights, and an electric buzzer.

Photo: Renate Weller, DrMedVet., PhD, MRCVS, MScVetEd, FHEA

Using what seems like a high-tech version of the child's game "Operation," some veterinary students can now practice giving equine joint injections using a simulator constructed of foam, rubber bands, nylon tights, and an electric buzzer.

A team of undergraduate students at England's Royal Veterinary College (RVC) developed the new buzzing joint simulator to help vet students practice finding the right location to administer joint injections before trying their hands at injecting a live horse.

Renate Weller, DrMedVet., PhD, MRCVS, MScVetEd, FHEA, professor of comparative biomechanics and imaging at RVC, explained that students often have a hard time placing the needle in the correct spot within the joint.

“When you are inexperienced, it takes you more trials before you get it right, and in the case of nerve and joint blocks this means the horse getting poked with needles more,” Weller said. “This is obviously not nice for the horse, and often horses get impatient and less cooperative, which in turn leads to an increased risk for the handler, vet, and the horse itself to get injured. Repeat injections also increase the risk of infection.”

Joint injections are administered frequently in horses, said Victoria Fox, DVM, the student who led the study. Injecting joints' synovial spaces helps veterinarians both diagnose and treat various causes of lameness, so getting the technique right is critical for future veterinarians.

Current practice calls for students to learn by injecting dye into cadaver joints; however, this isn’t ideal because of the limited opportunities available to students to practice on cadavers. Additionally, each cadaver joint can only be injected one time before it is dissected to see if the dye was injected correctly. And immediate feedback requires an instructor to be present to ensure the student performed the injection correctly.

With the simulator—which is very cost-effective compared to cadaver joints—students can practice again and again, on their own if they choose, Weller said. “They can practice in their own … without time pressure and having other students and staff looking over their shoulder all the time,” she said. “Especially quieter, less confident students appreciate this.”

The joint injection simulator is now part of the RVC's clinical skills center, where students can practice more than one hundred different skills—from putting on a halter to taking radiographs (X rays)—using different simulators. The joint injection simulator’s “very simple yet effective design” features basic materials such as foam, rubber bands, black nylon tights (to simulate skin), a battery, a wool wire, and a hypodermic needle attached to a cable, Weller said.

The simulator isn't the be-all and end-all of injection training, however. Students still need to practice on cadaver joints as well as gain experience with live horses, but their skills will be much more advanced by the time they get to that point if they’ve been using the simulator, said Weller.

“I really think (the simulators) should be an integral part in any veterinary training program,” she said. “However, it is not good enough to produce these teaching aids; they need to be validated so we know how effective they are in teaching students.”

The study, "Design and validation of a simulator for equine joint injections," was published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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