From the October issue of Bovine Veterinarian: Program aims to put veterinarians in the field in less time and with lower debt.

When the University of Arizona (UA) opens its veterinary medical and surgical program in the fall of 2015, the inaugural class of students will find themselves engaged in a new approach to veterinary education. The program, with a significant focus on food animals, intends to award DVM degrees in less time than typical, with less student debt and with non-traditional training focused on the current and future needs of industry and society.

Shane Burgess, BVSc, PhD, serves as UA’s vice provost and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and has been a driving force behind the university’s decision to create Arizona’s first public veterinary medical and surgical program to train doctors of veterinary medicine. Burgess lists three key trends that influenced the planning and conceptual design of the new program.

Veterinarian shortage

Arizona and other Western states need more veterinarians, particularly in rural areas and in food-animal practice. Public veterinary schools in other states typically have set quotas for non-resident admissions, which limit access for Arizona students. Also, the high cost of out-of-state tuition and the resulting debt load for vet-school graduates create a barrier for aspiring Arizona veterinarians. The high debt-to-income ratio for students who study out of state can price them out of the market for a career in rural practice.

Expenses and debt

Completion of a DVM degree is too expensive and takes too long for many students. Burgess says the Arizona program will run year-round, with classes in session for 48 weeks. This creates a 50 percent increase in annual class time, allowing students to complete degrees faster without any reduction in curriculum content. UA undergraduates will have an option of entering a competitive first-year program in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences. Following just one year, students who complete that program will enter a year-round veterinary medical program that will lead to a DVM degree in as little as three additional years.

Also, the university plans to integrate the veterinary program with existing facilities and other resources within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Medicine. The university owns two ranches and other large-animal facilities, a slaughterhouse and a veterinary diagnostic laboratory that will provide hands-on educational opportunities for veterinary students.

The university does not intend to build a veterinary teaching hospital, which would entail significant costs and would compete with private practices. Instead, Burgess says, the program’s “distributive model” will build partnerships and place students into residencies at private practices, industry or government agencies during their final two semesters. Through these elements, the university intends to reduce student costs and debt upon graduation.

One Health

The “One-Health” concept outlines how vital veterinary participation is to public health and national security programs in today’s global economy. As many as 70 percent of emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic or have an animal vector in the chain of infection, Burgess points out. Instruction in this area will focus on human-animal interdependence, exploring the relationships individuals, communities and society maintain with livestock and companion animals. The program also will include a wildlife component, examining the interactions between wildlife, agriculture, food safety and public health, and the role of wildlife as disease vectors. 

Burgess says the school also will take a different approach in its admissions policy. Traditionally, veterinary schools use a high standard for undergraduate GPA as an initial hurdle for applicants. That high standard serves to reduce the pool of qualified applicants for the admissions board to evaluate. Often, though, students with the highest GPA come from affluent urban or suburban school districts, where they had access to advanced placement courses and gifted programs in their K-12 studies. Students from rural districts might have the same aptitude and potential but enter college less prepared. And if their families are less affluent, they are more likely to hold a job while in school.

These factors, Burgess says, can result in students who could become excellent veterinarians finishing with a GPA below that competitive standard for most DVM programs. So the UA program, as long as the students have the GPA needed to learn the material, will place less emphasis on overall GPA for admissions and more on students’ backgrounds, experience, industry knowledge and grades in key subject areas. Selection boards made up of representatives of industry, veterinary medicine, livestock-production organizations and Native American tribes will participate in applicant selection. The admissions process, Burgess says, will focus on selecting students who, as veterinarians, will best serve their communities, the state, the livestock industry and global commerce. And, he adds, as those needs change over time, the veterinary program is designed for flexibility, allowing it to adapt and adjust its curriculum and evolve to provide the right people with the right training at the right time.

Toward that goal, Burgess says he would appreciate input from veterinarians around the country and would value their insights on the types of knowledge and skills new graduates need, or will need, to thrive in the veterinary profession.

The university currently is working toward accreditation of the veterinary degree program through the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Representatives of the AVMA conducted a consultative site visit in January, a voluntary step intended to help prepare for a comprehensive AVMA site visit leading to accreditation. The school plans to welcome its first class of veterinary students in the fall of 2015.

Find this article and others on the Whisper electronic stethoscope, veterinary feed directive and more in the October digital edition of Bovine Veterinarian.