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National physician group urges Sanford Health to stop using pigs in training courses

Artwork appearing on billboards and buses across Fargo, North Dakota
Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine
Artwork appearing on billboards and buses across Fargo, North Dakota.

A Sioux Falls doctor and a national group of physicians are bringing public pressure on Sanford Health to stop using animals in trauma training, while Sanford Health is defending the practice.

Dr. Ronald Cohen is a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has authored a nationwide petition directed at Sanford Health’s President and CEO Bill Gassen.

“I need your help to improve medical training and save animals,” Cohen writes. “Sanford Health, operating in the Dakotas and headquartered in my home state of Sioux Falls, S.D., is the last remaining medical center in the country still using animals in its trauma training course.”

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a national nonprofit physician advocacy group. It is circulating the petition and funding billboards and bus wraps in Fargo, North Dakota, that read, “Sanford Health: Stop Killing Animals to Teach Human Medicine.”

The messages refer to a course in Fargo that uses pigs, according to the Physicians Committee. The pigs are alive as the procedure is completed, the committee says, and then killed after. The course is known as Advanced Trauma Life Support and is meant for first responders like paramedics and EMTs.

The American College of Surgeons, the medical body which developed and accredits the courses, has endorsed replacing animals with simulation training since 2001. The Sanford Medical Center in North Dakota is the only one of 385 accredited programs in the U.S. and Canada that has not stopped using animals, according to the Physicians Committee.

Sanford Health responded with a written statement to SDPB News. In that statement, Sanford Health Fargo Director of Emergency and Trauma Services Sherm Syverson says that “pigs provide an invaluable experience compared to performing a procedure on a plastic mannequin.” He adds, “We continue this practice based on positive feedback from the physicians and other medical providers who care for injured patients, of which many practice in rural settings where resources are limited.”

Dr. John Pippin is a cardiologist and director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee. He says the continued use of pigs is substandard. “It’s headshaking. When there are ways to train this where you can replicate the human anatomy, why would you use a farm animal?”

The committee’s online petition now has over 62,000 public signatures. In September, the Physicians Committee sent a similar petition with 265 physician signatures to Sanford Health.

Before launching the media campaign on billboards and buses in Fargo this week, Dr. Pippin and the committee appealed to the Sanford Health Board of Trustees in January.