Meet the Dean: Ross University of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Elaine D. Watson came to RUSVM to take it to the new level, and hasn't stopped.


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Elaine Watson

Courtesy Ross University School of veterinary medicine

Elaine Watson is the dean of Ross Unversity School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Elaine D. Watson began her role as dean of the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in February 2012 and has since worked hard to take the school “to the next level.” This includes strengthening the use of research as part of the educational program, internationalization of the student body and developing postgraduate Master’s and Ph.D. programs. Watson has published more than 300 scientific papers and abstracts in the area of veterinary reproduction, as well as contributing chapters to several books.

Q. Why did you enter veterinary medicine?

A. Before I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to become a veterinarian. Initially, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do, which was to work with horses. However, while attending the University of Glasgow, I began to explore the many opportunities that the veterinary world offered and I realized I wanted to do more—research, teach, gain global experience, influence the world around me and contribute to the future of veterinary medicine.

Q. What was your first veterinary job after graduation?

A. After completing both my veterinary degree and a Masters in veterinary reproduction at the University of Glasgow, my first position was as a Veterinary Research Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Cattle Breeding Center at Shinfield, United Kingdom, where I studied infertility in dairy cattle on a number of the farms serviced by the Artificial Insemination Center. The work I did there was at a very applied level, such as optimal timing of insemination in dairy cows, as well as more developmental work on the use of milk progesterone as a management tool in cattle breeding.

Q. How and why did you move into academia?

A. After working for about five years on bovine reproduction for the Ministry of Agriculture and for the Agricultural and Food Research Council, I wanted to switch fields to equine. I also had interest in teaching and performing clinical work, as well as research. I was advised by one of my mentors, Lord Soulsby, to start by undertaking a Ph.D., which I did, at the University of Bristol.

I was then recruited by Dick McFeely to the University of Pennsylvania as assistant professor of Equine Reproduction and head of the Endocrine Laboratory. This move probably proved to be the most influential in shaping my career, giving me clinical reproduction and teaching experience in an environment that nurtured and rewarded research and leadership skills. This was also when I realized the importance of gaining international exposure in broadening one’s professional experience and outlook.

I later joined the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and led in various capacities as head of reproduction, head of postgraduate and research and then dean in 2003. In 2012, I was recruited as dean of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, specifically to take it “to the next level.”

RUSVM’s 55 acre campus includes classrooms, laboratory space, large animal teaching facility, a small animal clinic and more than 350 teaching animals with a view of the Caribbean ocean and a backdrop of exotic mountainous rainforest.

Courtesy Ross University School of veterinary medicine

RUSVM’s 55 acre campus includes classrooms, laboratory space, large animal teaching facility, a small animal clinic and more than 350 teaching animals with a view of the Caribbean ocean and a backdrop of exotic mountainous rainforest.

Q. How do you keep up on the state of veterinary medicine?

A. One of the key strategic initiatives of RUSVM is the internationalization of the program. I have always been interested in the state of veterinary medicine on a global scale. I am involved in various professional organizations and universities throughout the world and have served on many professional boards in the U.K.

With one of our Research Centers focused on One Health, and having been a senior figure in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at Edinburgh, I am also interested in the state of human health and the interactions and influences of animal health on human health—and vice versa. In fact, we are hosting an international One Health Conference, “Bridging the Divide” at RUSVM in November.

Finally, understanding the profession from the students’ perspective is vital to the future of veterinary medicine. We are training the next generation of participants and leaders in the global healthcare team—with all of the looming challenges they will face in the mid-21st century. I engage frequently with our student government association to gain knowledge of what is impacting our students and its relevance to the current state of veterinary medicine. This also provides me some insight into what challenges and opportunities the future generations of veterinarians may face on a personal level.

Q. What does your school look for in choosing students?

A. The ethos of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine has always been to “give students a chance.” A number of states in the U.S. do not have their own program, and existing schools are oversubscribed and reject students who have the potential to become good veterinarians. While academic success is important, RUSVM prides itself in accepting a well-rounded student—character counts—could they be influential in the global veterinary world, are they willing to take calculated risks for the benefit of animals and humans, do they have interest in conservation medicine and wildlife that would make an educational experience in St. Kitts even more rewarding, do they have passion for veterinary medicine and research? All of these are considerations when RUSVM chooses students for our program. RUSVM carefully monitors student attrition, and we lose less than 2.6 percent (2012-2013 academic year) of students from the program, while maintaining high academic standards. This low attrition rate means we carefully select students who are able to succeed in the RUSVM program.

RUSVM looks for students who seek an opportunity for a global education in an AVMA-accredited program. We have students, faculty and staff from around the globe, and renowned researchers with experience at the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and from some of the world’s top universities. RUSVM has students from as far afield as Asia and Australia and as close as the U.S., Canada and South America.

RUSVM students working with the Dr. Lesroy Henry, veterinarian at the St. Kitts Department of Agriculture, on ambulatory rotation at local porcine farm. RUSVM students gain unique experience studying zoonotic diseases that afflict livestock and other domesticated animals throughout the tropics and developing world.

Courtesy Ross University School of veterinary medicine

RUSVM students working with the Dr. Lesroy Henry, veterinarian at the St. Kitts Department of Agriculture, on ambulatory rotation at local porcine farm. RUSVM students gain unique experience studying zoonotic diseases that afflict livestock and other domesticated animals throughout the tropics and developing world.

With an annual intake of well over 450 students, admitted in three semesters, RUSVM offers an accelerated program, with course work totaling just [a little more than three years]. Most of our students have already completed a three or four-year science degree, however the most talented students can join the program after a two-year pre-veterinary training period. We have recently successfully gained approval to offer a dual degree DVM/Masters program, and so will further be extending the choices for our most qualified applicants.

Q. Many veterinary students graduate today with about $160,000 in loan debt. Can anything be done to reduce that burden? Does your school offer any advice to students about loan debt?

A. The accelerated program offered by the school—with students graduating in just over three years—allows graduates to enter the workplace almost a year earlier than traditional two semester programs. Student debt also remains at the forefront of our minds at RUSVM, and the school is focusing on ways to produce a value-for-money veterinary education, whilst not detracting from the educational experience. With this in mind, I recently appointed an Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning and one of the primary focuses of the position is to develop an effective, preclinical curriculum, mindful of controlling costs of tuition and student debt, while achieving the best learning environment and experience for RUSVM students.

RUSVM provides individual counseling to students via our financial aid office. The financial aid administrators recently received an organizational award from DeVry Education Group for a bespoke program they created to educate RUSVM students on financial management. Additionally, as a part of classroom instruction, Veterinary Professional Foundations includes a module focused on debt management and employment contracts, as well as cover letter and resume/CV, interview skills, salary negotiation, selecting a first position and corporate career opportunities.

Q. Does your school encourage students to go into underserved areas, such as large-animal medicine?

A. We have a very diverse student community at RUSVM, some from non-traditional backgrounds and some from underserved areas themselves. While many of our students become small animal practitioners, I believe that RUSVM encourages students to consider non-traditional, and global veterinary opportunities. Yes, that does include areas such as large animal, but also includes the wider opportunities for veterinarians such as undertaking research in a developing region or considering careers in public health, agricultural practice, corporates, industry, government service and biomedical research.

Q. In recent years, has your veterinary school switched its focus or added new programs?

A. I joined RUSVM just over two years ago, initiating a strategic refocus of RUSVM’s priorities—strengthening the use of research as part of the educational program, internationalization of the student body and developing postgraduate Master’s and Ph.D. programs.

The high standards applied by the AVMA’s Council on Education to both U.S. and foreign schools, along with the strong backing of the RUSVM Board of Trustees, and senior leadership at DeVry Education Group, have been pivotal in helping me, as dean, to transform the school. Through targeted recruitment of leaders in their field, collaborations and partnerships with top universities, institutes and practices, RUSVM faculty members now participate in research projects totalling more than $21 million from grant-awarding bodies, industry, corporates and governments, and have authored almost 100 scientific papers in the past year. Our faculty, from some of the world’s top universities and research organizations, are committed to providing students with the opportunity to become deeply involved in research. I’m proud that around 400 of our students now participate annually in research projects and all students now undertake a credit-bearing course on Principles of Veterinary Research.

Conservation medicine is the focus of one of the four RUSVM Research Centers.  Students have the opportunity to work with the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network to participate in conservation programs, turtle tagging initiatives and community education sessions.

Courtesy Ross University School of veterinary medicine

Conservation medicine is the focus of one of the four RUSVM Research Centers. Students have the opportunity to work with the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network to participate in conservation programs, turtle tagging initiatives and community education sessions.

We have also developed four Research Centers, which are the primary avenues through which RUSVM interacts nationally, regionally and globally. Each center comprises a group of leading researchers working collaboratively in a clearly defined field of inquiry. The portfolio of our Research Centers project RUSVM’s strategic intent of research excellence and contribute to the research culture of RUSVM, including training and mentoring postgraduate and doctor of veterinary medicine students.

A year ago, RUSVM launched its Master of Science by Research (MSc) and Ph.D. degrees in Public Health, Global Animal Health, Tropical Animal Health, Conservation Medicine and other research areas supported by RUSVM and its partner institutions. The management of the postgraduate program and its regulation are structured according to the frameworks set by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (United Kingdom). RUSVM’s geographical location in the Caribbean, its existing focus on One Health, and its global partnerships will appeal to those interested in pursuing knowledge and understanding of public health aspects of all species, rigorous scientific methodology, and the control and prevention of diseases affecting humans and animals in tropical regions.

In September, we plan to launch an online Masters program on One Health

Global trends will influence the future of the veterinary profession and how veterinary researchers serve society and how veterinary professionals define their role in a rapidly changing world. RUSVM is focused on internationalization of the student body, bringing an even more diverse learning perspective to our academic program. I believe there is no better way to educate students about One Health or to encourage them to become leaders a part of the global health care team than to immerse them in that environment. Our efforts include bringing students from across the globe into the program—U.S., Asia, U.K. and even Africa—and increasing the proportion of international students by 10 percent in the next two years. Today’s world is a world of global connectivity. As veterinary educators we must prepare tomorrow’s veterinarians to practice in a global society, where human and animal health care providers are partners.

Q. Discuss any patents, technologies or procedures your school has had a hand in recently.

A. Through RUSVM’s Research Centers, we have been able to forge new research collaborations in academia, government and industry that have laid the foundation for exciting new projects in the field.  With our unique setting, RUSVM’s research faculty are working on 21st century solutions to global problems including:

  • Review of the possible use of immuno-contraceptives in managing invasive species such as non-human primate populations. 
  • Design of synthetic baits that could carry new biologics to reach free-ranging wildlife and vaccinate them against selected diseases.
  • Development of sensitive and specific immuno-histochemical tests to improve the detection of emerging pathogens in a rapid and economic manner. 
  • Creation of relevant laboratory animal models for the testing of human products that will have improved purity, safety, immunogenicity and efficacy, such as monoclonal antibodies. 

Q. What are you most proud of about your school?

A. I was brought in to “take RUSVM to the next level.” Within the first three months of my arrival we underwent an extensive strategic planning exercise which involved faculty, staff and students in identifying the school’s priorities and devising a roadmap of how to deliver the vision. I am very proud of the high quality new faculty, staff and administrators we have attracted, who share in that vision for RUSVM and are excited to be pioneers in a changing school. But I am most proud of those existing faculty, administrators and staff members who were here when I arrived, who have embraced the vision, supported change and played an active role in reaching where we need to be. Along the way, we have formed strategic partnerships with organizations that complement the potential for impactful research at RUSVM. Organizations such as Moredun Research Institute, Global Alliance for Rabies Control, EcoHealth Alliance, The Roslin Institute, The Wistar Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and some of the world’s top universities now work with us, and are collaborating with us in research and in grant proposals. It is a great time to be a part of such an ambitious, globally-focused school.

Biography At-a-Glance

Name:  Elaine D. Watson, BVMS, MVM, Ph.D., DSc, Dip ECAR, FSB, FRCVS, ARAgS, dean, Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine; vice president, DeVry Medical International

Age: 58

Degrees and Schools:

2002 – DSc, Ovarian and uterine function in Mares, University of Edinburgh

1986 – PhD, Endometritis in the Mare, University of Bristol

1979 – MVM in Reproduction, University of Glasgow

1978 – BVMS, University of Glasgow

Certifications:

2014 – Fellow, Society of Biology

2013 – Associate, Royal Agricultural Societies

2001 – Founding Diplomate, European College of Animal Reproduction

1991 – Fellow, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (FRCVS)

Family: Son, Marcus (17 years)

Hometown:

Frigate Bay, St. Kitts (current)

Ayr, Scotland (birthplace)

Biography

Dr. Elaine Watson began her role as dean of the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in February 2012. She graduated from the Glasgow Veterinary School and continued her studies to complete a Master of Veterinary Medicine in Reproduction in 1979. After working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and then the Agricultural and Food Research Council in the area of bovine fertility, she completed a Ph.D. at Bristol University in 1987 on endometritis in the mare. Watson then moved to the University of Pennsylvania as assistant professor of Equine Reproduction and Head of The Endocrine Laboratory.

RUSVM launched its new Master of Science by Research program in August 2013. Dr. Esteban Soto (left), Associate Professor of Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology, is working with an MSc student on a research project focused on emerging fish disease.

Courtesy Ross University School of veterinary medicine

RUSVM launched its new Master of Science by Research program in August 2013. Dr. Esteban Soto (left), Associate Professor of Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology, is working with an MSc student on a research project focused on emerging fish disease.

In 1991, Watson returned to Scotland as Head of Reproduction at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, was awarded a Personal Chair in Veterinary Reproduction in 1999, and received a DSc from the University of Edinburgh in 2002 for her studies on ovarian function in mares. A European Specialist in Equine Reproduction, Dr. Watson was elected president of the European College of Animal Reproduction in 2005.

Watson has served on editorial boards of various scientific journals and is a regular reviewer for research councils in the U.K. and U.S.A., was a member of the RCVS Council, Education, Policy and Specialization Committee, and Fellowship sub-Committee from 2003-2011, was Chief Examiner for the RCVS Diploma in Veterinary Reproduction, and was a Trustee of the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation.

She has published over 300 scientific papers and abstracts in the area of veterinary reproduction, as well as contributing chapters to several books and delivering invited talks at many international conferences. She was dean of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies from 2003-2011, and successfully initiated and led a more than $171 million capital development project and fundraising campaign for the school transforming the Veterinary Field Station into the Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, one of the largest concentrations of veterinarians, students and animal scientists in the world. In addition, she initiated the first strategic partnership between a pharmaceutical company and a veterinary school, established educational programs for veterinarians in China and India, and instituted articulation agreements with programs in Japan and Hong Kong. She was also responsible for gaining funding from a Swiss Trust and other sources to establish the world’s first International Centre in Animal Welfare Education.  Dr. Watson is an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh.

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