DVM, self-avowed computer geek charts tech-enhanced course in veterinary education

DVM, self-avowed computer geek charts tech-enhanced course in veterinary education

Jul 01, 2011

Dr. Robert Malinowski
Lansing, Mich. — Students entering the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University (MSU) expect to sit in lectures and attend labs, but thanks to Robert Malinowski, DVM, the use of technology both in the classroom and out is enhancing courses and changing the way students are receiving information.

Malinowski, 33, heads the Information Technology Center at MSU's veterinary college. There, he combines his DVM training along with his master's degree in telecommunications, digital media art and technology, both earned at MSU.

"Technology is an enhancement for the classroom," he says. Malinowski embraced that outlook early in his career when completing his master's thesis. He developed a 3D anatomy of the dog to create a virtual bone box. "When I went through the anatomy program, I had difficulties remembering every origin insertion, muscle and bone," he recalls. To aid the learning process, Malinowski photographed the main bones of the canine skeleton while on a turn table. A camera system rotated the bones 10 degrees at a time and photographed each angle. He put the photos into a program that "stitched it all together," he says. "I made a program so you could get a virtual bone box. It's inconvenient to haul a box of dog bones around."

Combining ease of learning with technology has been a focus for the Michigan native, who decided on a veterinary career in junior high school. Although he jumped from specialty to specialty in school—including stints focusing on small-animal surgery, large animal and two rotations in small-animal critical care—Malinowski returned to his love of technology. "At the last minute, I got involved in medical informatics—the fusion of information technology and medicine," he notes. "I've always been a computer geek at heart." That geek-like proclivity led him to begin the master's program just a week after completing his DVM.

Now he not only runs the IT center, but is also an assistant professor and administrator of the school's Picture Archive and Communications System (PACS). The system, which stores images electronically, was one of Malinowski's first ventures after finishing his master's in 2003. "It connects plain films, MRI, ultrasound, etc.," he says. "We do everything electronic now."

Implementing such a system has its costs, however, which is why Malinowski says the veterinary profession lags behind human medicine in informatics. "Medical informatics encompasses everything from PACS to electronic medical records, which are pricy," he notes. "It's cost-prohibitive for practices to implement those types of things. We're catching up, but we're still behind." The other issue, he says, is the number of people just like him in the field. "The informatics group in veterinary medicine is pretty small—only around 50 or so people specialize," Malinowski says.

Beyond promoting his field, Malinowski focuses on streamlining and improving veterinary education at MSU. In fact, he's working on a PhD in educational technology. "It's given me a lot of insight as to how to apply classroom technology to learning theories," he says. To that end, Malinowski is working to include more media in education. "We've done a lot with digital video, surgery and training videos and 3D animation (in the classroom)," he says. For example, MSU has been using Camtasia, a product for lecture recording, for the last five years. Ninety-five percent of lectures are recorded and put online for students by 5 p.m. the day of the class. "The vast majority of students still go to class," says Malinowski, "but they use the recording for back-up if they are sick and then to study for midterms." A podcast of each lecture is also created.

For veterinary education as a whole, Malinowski emphasizes flexibility, but also agrees with the NAVMEC "roadmap" proposal for standardization. "We should present materials in a variety of ways for different styles and types of students," he says, but also notes that individual veterinary colleges don't need to reinvent the wheel.

Malinowski backs sharing ideas and educational content. "If we're going to create a unit on a topic and make it five different ways to be flexible at MSU, I would hate to see that same amount of effort at different schools," he says. "I'm definitely into content sharing, and people are more receptive (to the idea) now because of cost. There's not enough time and money to develop everything over and over again."

Mostly, Malinowski emphasizes the power of sharing. "If we have an expert in orthopedic surgery at MSU, why not share that with other colleges that may not have a person of that caliber? And if they have a neurologist that we don't, let's trade content." Who wants to make a deal?