Vet Schools Debut In Arizona, Tennessee

Midwestern and Lincoln Memorial universities open the nation’s two newest veterinary schools.


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Kathleen H. Goeppinger lobbied the Midwestern University board of trustees to approve construction of a veterinary college.

Amid the debate over whether veterinary school graduates can afford mortgage-sized tuition debt and whether the United States has too many practitioners comes Kathleen H. Goeppinger, Ph.D., who sees a reason to produce more veterinarians.

“I know the world says, ‘Hey, vets don’t get paid enough’ and ‘Vet school is expensive,’ but I also know that the desire to be a vet is very strong in many people,” Goeppinger said.

The president and CEO of Midwestern University this month opens the nation’s 29th veterinary college, while 1,620 miles to the east in Harrogate, Tenn., Lincoln Memorial University launches No. 30.

The two newest veterinary colleges — each eligible for provisional accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education — will add a combined 197 first-year students to the national rolls. Last year, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges counted 2,981 first-year students among the 11,474 DVM students enrolled at 28 schools on U.S. soil.

Lincoln Memorial, a private liberal arts college set in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Tennessee, offers master’s programs in nursing and physician assistance and awards a doctoral degree in osteopathic medicine.

Midwestern, which despite its name sits on the sun-baked desert floor of Glendale, Ariz., is a graduate campus housing colleges of osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, health sciences, dentistry and optometry.

The confluence of schools of human and veterinary medicine on each campus was no accident. Both Lincoln Memorial and Midwestern tout the One Health concept as a chief reason for the birth of their veterinary schools.

Goeppinger needed to persuade the Midwestern board of trustees to spend $180 million to construct a veterinary college from scratch.

“I didn’t spring the idea on them overnight,” she said. “I gave them a couple of years to get used to it. When I convinced them of the One Health model, even physicians on the board voted unanimously to do veterinary medicine.

“They were convinced it was the right thing to do,” she added, “to bring that human-animal relationship much closer to all the students that were graduating.”

Announced in March 2012, the Midwestern College of Veterinary Medicine rose quickly on the 156-acre campus. The inaugural class of 102 students will fill lecture rooms and consult with professors in the brand-new 78,000-square-foot Cactus Wren Hall. A 109,000-square-foot teaching hospital, the Animal Health Institute, will open this fall. An adjacent large animal hospital, the 70,000-square-foot Equine and Bovine Center, is set to debut in January.

Assembled around Goeppinger is an administrative team recruited from academia, business and private practice. The dean is Brian K. Sidaway, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, who left veterinary practice outside New Orleans to move to suburban Phoenix.

Dr. Sidaway was impressed by how quickly the veterinary college moved from blueprints to occupied faculty offices.

“Midwestern doesn’t waste time,” he said. “They definitely have a lot of processes in place to help us.”

The streamlining—Midwestern uses the same builder on its capital projects—benefits all 3,000 Glendale students.

“Since we’re a smaller university, there’s quite a few centralized services that traditionally would be siloed within a veterinary school,” Sidaway said. “For example, admissions, financial services, communications—these guys are all experts at doing it. So we didn’t have to start from scratch in those areas.

“When you look at the relationship that Midwestern has with everyone they deal with—from their architects to the engineers to the construction company—it helps get things done,” he added.

Sidaway oversees faculty hiring. About 16 will welcome the incoming class, and the roster is expected to grow to 35 or 40 over the next three years.

“We’ve tried to select faculty members that want to really be in academia, want to be mentors to students, not only professionally but on a personal type of level,” Sidaway said.

In charge of clinical education, the clinical faculty and the teaching hospital is Thomas K. Graves, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, who was recruited from the University of Illinois and its Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, which he directed.

“I came to Midwestern for the opportunity to build something new, to really innovate without all the institutional history that can sometimes keep you from thinking outside the box,” Dr. Graves said.

Midwestern is reinventing the wheel in regard to veterinary education, Graves said.

“We’re starting with hands-on clinical training from the very beginning and repeatedly all the way through the experience,” he said. “That includes extensive clinical skills labs, extensive surgical and anesthesia labs before they get into the clinical rotations.

“Our curriculum is packed with a lot more clinical communications training than most other curricula have, which I think is huge in terms of Day 1 skills,” he added. “It’s packed with financial literacy training — personal finance, running a practice, debt management; all those types of things that veterinary students need.”

Like at other colleges, Midwestern students will begin clinical rotations in the third year — but with a twist. In some cases, rotations will last six months to allow students to follow patients long term.

“At most veterinary schools students go from specialty to specialty to specialty,” Graves said. “They observe and shadow a lot. We think that’s a great way to expose students to the various specialties, and we plan to do that, too.

“But we’re focusing more on training Day 1 veterinarians,” he noted. “Our students will all be required to do six-month rotations in primary care and general practice, the discipline that most of them will work in.

“They will be seeing their own cases day after day after day for six months at a time. If they have a patient who needs a radiograph taken, they won’t do what students at other university teaching hospitals do—order a radiograph and the students on the radiology rotation will come.

“Our students will go and get their own radiographs taken with each other’s help and with technicians,” Graves said. “And if they need a radiologist to interpret film, there will be faculty members to do that. If they have a patient that needs a dental, that needs to be spayed or neutered, that needs a general practice-level surgical procedure, the students do that.”

Kurt Weingand, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVP, isn’t under the same deadlines as his administrative colleagues. The associate dean for research and postgraduate education is heading up the Institute for Healthcare Innovation, a building that may open by late 2015.

Dr. Weingand didn’t go far when joining Midwestern. He previously worked in Phoenix as senior vice president and chief science officer for Central Garden and Pet and before that spent 20 years with Procter & Gamble Co.

The Institute for Healthcare Innovation will bring together all the Midwestern colleges under a research umbrella—the One Health concept at work. The institute will have three parts:

  • A clinical research organization employing clinicians, data management staff, biostatisticians and veterinary technicians. “These are the people who will physically run the trials and write the reports, do the statistical analyses—all the stuff that most clinician investigators don’t have the time for,” Weingand said.
  • A qualitative research center that will focus on the feelings and perceptions of the human and animal subjects or pet owners.
  • An advanced imaging center housing a 3 Tesla MRI system and a PET/CT.

“We initially wanted to create an animal welfare-friendly animal research program,” Weingand said. “When we talked about the idea, Dr. Goeppinger said, ‘Can you do this with people, too?’ and I said, ‘Oh, yeah, all the tools are the same.’

“I said, ‘We’ll just create a separate entry on one side of the building for the people to come in and one entry for dogs and cats on the other end.’”

Midwestern sorted through 600 applications to land its first 102 students, nearly 90 percent of whom are women. Sidaway admitted that some of the students, who hail from 27 states, may not have known about Midwestern until late in the process.

“I think one of the first times students saw our name was on the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test] application, when they could check a box,” Sidaway said. “Some students commented that they did that, and when they came for an interview they were shocked and surprised at what they saw.”

Goeppinger is proud of Midwestern’s $180 million investment and has already started thinking about a seventh college in Glendale: speech language pathology.

“Our mission, which drives us, is to look at the health care needs of our society,” she said. “For the past 15 years we worked very hard at interprofessional education so that none of our students graduate from a silo. So a pharmacy student doesn’t go out and say, ‘Well, everything revolves around me.’ And a doctor doesn’t walk out and say, ‘I can do this without the physical therapist and the occupational therapist and the dentist.’

“In my mind, what was always lacking was veterinary medicine,” Goeppinger said, “because I think, in many respects, medicine revolves around veterinary medicine.” 

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