Inside the Department of Comparative Biosciences

Inside the Department of Comparative Biosciences

Entering content area for Inside the Department of Comparative Biosciences

blog posts

  • Holiday Greetings from Germany

    Hi everyone,

    Holiday Greetings from Germany!

    This posting will be a bit longer than usual as I haven’t blogged since October, and it has been quite busy.  With a holiday market literally surrounding my apartment building and over 170 booths with a variety of typical Christmas fare, food and drink to sell, the holiday season has been very obvious to me since the third week of November.  There are actually, 3 full Christmas markets in Hannover, but the one near my apartment is in the old part of town “Altstadt.”  More about the season at the end of this posting.

     Hannover Christmas market flag: 


    I have been busy with attending clinical rounds, consulting on endocrinology and clinical pharmacology, and learning the manner by which the small animal clinic operates.  I have been asked by the “assistants” (young veterinarians in something equivalent to a rotating internship/residency) to give seminars on hyperadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism, and diabetes mellitus.  My engagement in the clinic was crucial to my understanding German medical terminology, acronyms, etc, and to identify good teaching cases for courses I am teaching with German colleagues. These are electives in clinical pharmacology (7th semester students) and clinical endocrinology (5th and 7th semester students).   As part of our study of critical critical thinking, Margarethe Hoenig translated the California Critical Thinking Skills Test to German for the first time ever, and we administered it to the students in the course and some in other elective courses. The image below shows the pharmacology laboratory/lecture room where we conduct the discussion course.  It is interesting to note that they still teach compounding of drugs as part of their laboratory instruction.  


    Pharmacology teaching lab/lecture room: 

     The Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving (not a holiday here), I also gave a research seminar entitled, “Developing a Brain: The Roles of Thyroid Hormone and Critical Thinking“ at the Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy Institute.  An institute here is similar to a department, but the research is often focused to main interest of the department head and one or two other senior professors. CNS neurobiology and more specifically, epilepsy is the interest of the “C4” Professor of this institute, Dr. Wolfgang Loescher.  Dr. Bankstahl, a junior professor with whom I collaborate in teaching the clinical pharmacology elective, works within his group.  Dr. Manfried Kietzmann is one of the other senior pharmacology faculty with interests in antibiotic resistance and dermatopharmacology. I will also be providing a seminar on comparative thyroidology in January for the “Endocrinology Colloquium” here.

     In the 5 year old small animal clinic, the morning from 8:15-10:00 is dominated by first the presentation of cases coming into the emergency clinic, then a walk through to the cageside of every animal.   This was the best way for me to see details of therapy, and to follow progress of the cases. With a case number, I could then look up more details about the case in “EasyVet,” where all data from a case, including laboratory and imaging data is housed.  This greatly facilitated developing case material for the courses in German.   Ultimately, for the classes, we are giving students cases I have identified so they can work them up to teach their student colleagues through a case program called “Casus” which is used at the “TiHo” and also at a variety of medical schools around the world. Students will be presenting these cases through the end of January when the Wintersemester ends. We hope to extend the work done here on critical thinking through the use of more advanced “natural language” computer processing of student case analyses. A computer science UIUC colleague, Dan Roth, and I, hope to join the TiHo faculty as well as potential collaborators in Austria and Holland, to seek European Union (Horizon 2020) funding.

    TiHo Clinic Building during holiday: 

     Along the way, I have learned some very interesting facts about the German “Ausbildung” (training/education) of a veterinarian. The examination completing a university-prep high school (“gymnasium”) is called “Abitur.” These tests are essay and oral in nature.  The scores and grades during school determine one’s placing within university programs around the country. Once in veterinary school in the 5.5 year didactic program, students attend classes all year, with only the laboratories actually having grades associated with them.  Examinations in courses are held during the summer after the year of instruction. Most examinations are oral and essay. With 250 students per class, you can imagine that this is a huge undertaking for the faculty.   The Center for E-Learning and Didactic, where I am housed, is now responsible for coordinating what is called the “Progress Test.”  This test is a collection of multiple choice questions by all the German speaking veterinary schools in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  The test is geared toward the “Day 1” knowledge base. Each school contributes questions and s on a voluntary basis to TiHo students this year.  Only about 10% availed themselves of the opportunity the first time around, however, student reports were positive as students were encouraged to review the results and discuss them after the test.  Lower level students were encouraged to note where they did not have the background to address a question yet.

    In November, I visited the Utrecht veterinary school in the Netherlands.  Holland is reknowned for its bicycles, and being a pedestrian or car driver is a bit daunting there!   Being a very old city, driving and finding parking is near impossible.

    Bicycles at Utrecht train station:


     The Utrecht school has developed a very student-centric curriculum that evolved from a previous curriculum.  I visited with current and recently retired academic deans at the school and they clearly outlined the vision used to increase active learning throughout the curriculum.  Although not entirely problem-based, even anatomy laboratory study is driven by the “need to know” about a specific procedure, etc. associated with a case. The class of about 250 is divided into groups of 25 for most discussions.  The library has been turned into a repository for prosections and plastination samples, so students can review them while addressing cases.   Active learning is the watchword, and students develop learning portfolios and given feedback on their “progress” by faculty mentors. 

     I also spent a day in their well-known endocrine specialty clinic, seeing a wide variety of endocrine diseases in dogs and cats.  It was apparent that the clinical faculty continued the process of emphasizing student-centered learning (and responsibility for self-instruction!). For example, when a case of hypothyroidism was seen in the clinic in the morning, it was assigned for students to review, they were given an hour or two to prepare in small groups, and then the faculty returned to ask questions.  When the answers were not satisfactory, the faculty member did not provide the answers. He/she only suggested that the students go off and review the topic further and to expect more questions about it later. 

    Utrecht vet students in small animal clinic:


     I also had the opportunity to visit and speak at Giessen, one of the other 4 German veterinary schools.   I gave 2 seminars to the residents and clinicians on hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus.  They are fortunate to soon have a new small animal and bird clinic with brand-new 3T MRI and CT…apparently the clinic will be ready in the summer of 2015 at a cost of about $100 million. The MRI is also set up to handle horses from the equine clinic nearby  As with the clinic in Hannover, all funding for the new hospital will come from the German government.  In fact, the same architect is involved.

     New Giessen clinic:


     A couple of special notes for my pharmacology and toxicology colleagues in CB. I also had the opportunity to visit a previous student from my UGA time and her husband who are employees of Boehringer-Ingelheim in Ingelheim, not far from Mainz and Frankfurt. The huge BI complex is seen on the other side of the train station.

     Ingelheim train station: 


     However, what astounded me was the observation at a European handball match (an exciting game which is a combination between basketball, soccer, and baseball (or dodgeball!), that the major sponsor for the team was a local veterinary pharmaceutical company, CP-Pharma. Handball is second only to “Fussball” (soccer for the unindoctrinated) in Europe for fan following. Each team brings its following with horns and drums, and they are very loud. 

    CP-Pharma ad at Handball match: 


    OK, finally, to report on German Christmas markets. For those who might have ventured to the market on Daley Square in Chicago, imagine something perhaps easily 20 times larger.  The “plan” for the “historic” medieval market near my apartment is shown below. And before you think I am constantly out amongst the reverie at night, you can see from the map below, I can see and hear most of it without leaving my apartment!

    Medieval Christmas Market: 

    The view from in front of my apartment is below.

    Marktkirche at night:


     I am constantly regaled by bagpipe (“Dudelsack”) and drum music, and occasionally the more dulcet tones of a brass trio playing what I can recognize as holiday music.

    Bagpipe parade: 

     For the musically inclined, with the following YouTube video, you can get a taste of the music I hear multiple times each night, which also accompanies a “fire” show.

     In front of my apartment, there is a completely reconstructed forest around the fountain that is in the square.  The area is packed shoulder to shoulder any time after 5 PM at night until 9 PM as Gluehwein is sold there.  Yes, the floor of the forest has pine shavings.   It is not uncommon for people during the holidays to meet friends or even officemates at the market for a hot drink of one variety or another. In fact, the E-Learning group is going on Wednesday! Not even shown are the numerous booths which sell infamous German foods such as roasted almonds, Nuremberg fruitcakes and Lebkuchen, potato pancakes, warm sheepcheese sandwiches, etc.

    Wishing Fountain Forest at Medieval Christmas Market


     Historical Museum and Warming Fire: 


    Basically, there are 170 “Buden” (booths) throughout this main market in Hannover, but there is a section called the “Finnish” market, which has a different kind of Gluehwein called “Gloegi” and wonderful smoked salmon sandwiches and dishes. 

     Finnish Holiday market: 


    Two other Christmas markets exist…one near the train station, and one north of the train station.  You see similar vendors at most of them, but clearly the largest is the one in the old part of Hannover where I live. 

     Although the market in Mainz had not yet opened when I visited the city, I was fascinated by how the people create their “cozy” atmosphere in wine country…by having small booths made of, or looking like wine casks, for people to enjoy Gluehwein and “German comfort food.”  I guess it is the equivalent of the forest in front of my apartment.

     Mainz Holiday market: 


    Finally, back to academia.  I had the pleasure of attending this semester’s graduation for those receiving the Dr. med. vet. and also Ph.D. degrees.   After school is complete, there is apparently no graduation, but they are called “Tierarzt” or “Tierarztin” (for women, and 85% are, just like at UIUC).  The Dr. med. vet. is only achieved following the completion of a thesis equivalent to a Master’s degree research (without additional coursework). The “TiHo” was also celebrating its 10th anniversary as a separate foundation, which has allowed more private fundraising, a fairly new concept in the German system.  The President of the Tieraerztliche Hochschule Stiftung (TiHo Foundation) is Dr. Gerhard Greif, who is shown on the right (wearing white gloves!) handing out degrees.

    TiHo graduation: 


    A wonderful holiday break to everyone, and I wish you all a Happy New Year. I’ll probably report once or twice more before I return to Illinois in February.