A national nonprofit is using billboards to call out Hennepin County Medical Center for using live animals to teach and train physicians in emergency medical procedural skills.

The animal-rights group says the hospital should instead use simulators. It says they show the human anatomy better and are more realistic for training than using sheep and rabbits to practice procedures such as inserting breathing tubes and needles to drain fluids from the chest and heart.

The group called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine placed a billboard on 3rd Street near Chicago Avenue that shows a doctor in a white coat giving a thumbs down to the practice.

It is accompanied by the words "Hennepin County Medical Center: Using Animals to Teach Human Medicine? Switchtosimulation.org." The group said another billboard is coming.

"Sheep and rabbits are mutilated and killed for substandard-level training and cheating Minnesotans of the best trained physicians when they arrive in the emergency room," said Dr. John Pippin, director of academic affairs for the Washington D.C.-based group of 12,000 members.

The group claims most emergency medicine residency programs around the country have given up using animals for training and that simulators replicate human anatomy better than animals. In a survey of 162 hospitals, the group found that 144 of the 162 emergency medicine programs no longer use live animals for training.

It also said HCMC is the only hospital in Minnesota still using live animals for training.

The group said Thursday it plans to submit a request for a cruelty investigation to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Pippin said the group has been talking with HCMC about changing its teaching method since 2014 but has gotten nowhere. That's why it decided to go public with its billboard campaign.

Hospital officials said in a statement that they plan to eliminate the use of animals in its medical education program, but "there are a few critical, lifesaving procedures that can only be reliably taught in an animal model."

HCMC said it is developing and testing new simulation technology that would replace the use of animals.

"Until we can be certain that the conditions present during procedures can be replicated with simulation we will continue limited use of animals, in addition to simulation and cadavers to produce the most highly trained emergency and trauma physicians," the statement said.

HCMC adheres to all applicable federal, state, local laws and institutional policies and guidelines governing animal research, the statement said.