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Agent of change

  • Dr. Erin Malone

    Agent of change

    Dr. Erin Malone honored as innovative instructor and passionate student well-being advocate

    Dr. Erin Malone shares her perspective on teaching the next generation of veterinarians. Photo courtesy of AAVMC. 

It’s been several years since University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) graduate student Emily Pope has sat in a classroom for her DVM studies, but the knowledge she gained under the teachings of Dr. Erin Malone is still ingrained in her mind. 

Malone’s “flipped classroom” style of teaching asks students to prepare for class ahead of time through self-guided study questions prior to an in-class group discussion. It’s an approach that Pope says encouraged retention and application of knowledge while boosting student confidence in their capabilities. 

For Pope, Malone’s guidance didn’t end at the classroom door. In the years since, Pope says Malone has become a mentor to her and has gone above and beyond to encourage her professional development.  

Dr. Erin Malone works with veterinary students on practicing
stitching skills. Photo courtesy of AAVMC. 

“She has provided advice and sometimes very necessary tough love, but always in a way that conveyed how much she was invested in my success,” Pope says. “Her encouragement has prompted me to tackle new challenges, and she has sometimes been wise enough to give a gentle tug on the reins when I take on too much. She embodies the kind of service leadership that I hope to make my career into and a compassion for her colleagues—both present and future—that is an example for everyone in the CVM.” 

Pope’s experience is one of many examples of Malone’s impact during her 30 years of teaching at CVM. Malone is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and serves as assistant dean of curriculum. She also is a board-certified large animal surgeon and researcher. 

Malone’s evidence-based approach to teaching and learning as well as her fierce advocacy for student well-being has earned her national recognition and honors. Most recently, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) awarded Malone its most prestigious teaching award, the 2021 Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award, presented by Zoetis. The annual award recognizes a sustained record of teaching excellence and ability, dedication, character, and leadership in contributing significantly to the advancement of the profession.

It’s an honor colleagues like Dr. Peggy Root, associate dean of education CVM, see as a testament to Malone’s commitment to supporting not only current students but future ones as well. 

“Veterinary medicine historically moves a little more slowly than some other disciplines, and Erin takes that as an opportunity to see where others have gone before and to help us avoid pitfalls while taking advantage of lessons they've learned,” Root says. “She is focused on the students here but has her eyes on the horizon as well, and the ability to manage both viewpoints has served the college well.” 

Malone has championed interactive, team-based learning to better equip students to transition from the classroom to clinical practice. This includes using proven techniques drawn from brain science to make learning more memorable and fun, as well as more effective. She has a particular interest in how the brain learns the psychomotor skills required for successful clinical practice. 

Erin Malone addresses a classroom of students.
Photo courtesy of AAVMC.

In addition to the learning component of students’ education, Malone also focuses her efforts on improving student well-being. One example of this is her development of a weekly workload survey that asks students to report how many hours they spend on academic activities, such as studying and homework, and other activities such as exercise, hobbies, and sleep. 

“Student volunteers fill out a survey every week to help all of us better understand their lived experiences as our students,” Root says. “How many examinations can they have in a week without feeling overwhelmed? How much time out-of-class can we ask of them before we severely impinge on their ability to live their lives for the four years they are with us?”

The data from this survey is used to shape CVM curriculum and course schedules to help DVM students achieve a more manageable work-life balance. As a student, Pope participated in the survey and saw its impact extend beyond compiling facts and figures about student habits. 

“While Dr. Malone analyzed these measures at the end of the year and compiled them into a lengthy report, she also used them as a way to check in on a weekly basis, and if morale seemed to be flagging, took steps to improve the situation,” Pope says. 

In addition to creating the workload survey, Malone has pursued training to be a mental health advocate for students and has helped champion mental health awareness efforts at CVM, including RU OK Day and Wellness Wednesdays. As part of these efforts, Malone works with mental health professionals at CVM and elsewhere in the University. She also works closely with the American Veterinary Medical Association to increase awareness of the importance of student and mental health wellbeing resources.

Malone’s dedication to improving student learning and wellbeing isn’t just having an impact at CVM but in veterinary classrooms nationwide. 

“Dr. Malone is an innovator. Many people teach as they were taught and that means that change comes slowly. Dr. Malone is always educating herself about how people learn and she uses that information to try new teaching modalities,” Root says. “Most importantly, she doesn't just make these changes but also tracks student performance and attitudes to help understand which changes enhance learning in our specific student population and which do not, and then shares it by publication, helping veterinary educators and students everywhere and not just at Minnesota.”

Watch the American Association of Veterinary College’s video tribute to Dr. Erin Malone below.

Video file

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