Dr. Katharina Lohmann. Photo: Myrna MacDonald

Lohmann is students' choice for award

Dr. Katharina Lohmann likes all aspects of her work, but what the associate professor enjoys most about her job at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) is teaching and being with her students.

"I like that the teaching aspect changes all the time – it keeps me on my toes," says Lohmann, a specialist in large animal medicine. "The material is the same, but you're always teaching it to different people with different questions. That's what keeps it entertaining and keeps it fun."

This spring, Lohmann's dedication to teaching earned her a University of Saskatchewan Student Union Teaching Excellence Award. The annual awards are presented to U of S professors and teaching assistants who have been nominated by their students.

Having the students nominate her for the teaching award meant a great deal to Lohmann. And she was especially gratified to receive it for her portion of an equine medicine elective class (VLAC 433) – a class that she had worked really hard to develop.

"It wasn't a course that already existed, so I had some freedom to design it the way that I wanted it to be. I really put a lot of thought and effort into my vision for the course, and it's nice to feel that it's appreciated by the students."

The course focuses on case discussions (based on actual cases) and aims to reinforce material presented in the core curriculum. Students in the third-year class also have to complete assignments on case studies that require them to devise a diagnostic and a treatment plan as well as explain the rationale behind their decisions.

Although grading the assignments is time consuming, Lohmann believes the students benefit as they learn how to work their way through the information – a skill they'll need once they're out in practice.

A graduate of Berlin's Freie Universität, Lohmann came to the WCVM in 2004 after completing a PhD at the University of Georgia. Since her arrival at the college, she has focused on teaching strategies that benefit the students, many of whom have remained in touch with her in the years following graduation.

While she considers that her most important responsibility is helping the students to think and make sense out of all the information that is presented to them, Lohmann emphasizes the importance of earning their trust.

"I pay attention to making sure that I'm approachable. I try to make sure it's not uncomfortable for them to ask a question or to express to me that they don't know something," says Lohmann. "To me that's really essential."

That emphasis on self-awareness became even more important to Lohmann in 2010 after she completed communication training provided by the Bayer Animal Health Communication Project. This initiative focuses on improving communication skills training within veterinary schools as well as the veterinary practice.

"It was all about recognizing how you communicate and then having the power to do something about it." Lohmann explains. "Once you understand what the good communication tools are, you can practice them and use them intentionally to become more effective. It was definitely job-altering, if not life-altering."

That training was very helpful to Lohmann and her colleagues as they developed a third-year communication class aimed at helping students to become better communicators, particularly with their clients. She points out that the popular class has been a good opportunity for the students to realize the importance of the human connection in addition to their connection with animal patients.

Lohmann's communication skills are also invaluable for her other classes that require labs and lectures as well as her clinical work in the WCVM's Veterinary Medical Centre.  While she recognizes that lectures are an important aspect of teaching veterinary medicine, Lohmann admits that the most fulfilling component of her teaching is the part where she helps the students use and assimilate the information and put it into context.

"The students either know a large percentage of the lecture material or they can learn it from a book. But I want to focus on the part that's difficult for them," Lohmann explains. "I actually have them think about what it is about a particular topic that they don't understand very well, and that's what we talk about. It's more enjoyable for me, and hopefully the learning experience is more efficient for them."

In addition to her teaching and clinical responsibilities, Lohmann supervises three graduate students who are working on equine-related projects including equine herpes virus I and tick-borne diseases.

While she enjoys research projects such as these that develop from actual cases, Lohmann is interested in future research that incorporates communication and professional issues and aims at improving veterinary care.

As Lohmann considers her award and her students, she's particularly appreciative that in the middle of all their hard work they took the time to nominate her for the teaching excellence award.

"What impresses me the most about our students is how much responsibility they take for their education. They demand a good education, and they demand that their teachers do a good job," says Lohmann. "It's really important to me that my work has been acknowledged by these students who are so invested in their education."
Share this story