Penn Adjusts To Budget Squeeze


University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary MedicineAt a Glance

Location: Philadelphia

Degree Programs: VMD, VMD/Ph.D., VMD/MBA

Annual Tuition: $32,902 (state), $40,058 (out of state)



The nation’s second-oldest veterinary school survived the Great Depression and other economic crises. So it’s not surprising that Joan C. Hendricks, VMD, Ph.D., the dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, remains confident after having to solve a 30 percent slash in state funding.

The state money, just one component of the school’s annual budget, was reduced from $43 million to $30 million. Identifying $13 million in cutbacks was extremely painful, Dr. Hendricks says.

“We’re down about 150 people and we’ve cut our expenses overall by 16 percent,” she says. “It’s been really, really, really difficult. I have to say I have enormous pride in the people in the school and how they’ve handled things. People stepped up in a way that I don’t know that we knew we could, and we did.”

The budget balancing required a restructuring of the clinical practice, which in turn will give veterinary students more real-world training.

“Obviously we reduced the clinical staff for financial reasons,” Hendricks says. “In the last 10 years in our clinical practice we thought it would be good to staff our hospitals so that they could run without the students.

“But we saw academically that we’d gone too far. Students were having too little hands-on contact and they actually needed more. Academically what it means is that we’ll be moving toward a lot more teamwork between staff and students and a lot more hands-on care.”

To be sure, the 440 students enrolled in the VMD program won’t be burdened with skyrocketing tuition, Hendricks says.

“I worked very hard to protect them from the financial impact,” she says. “We’re not a tuition-driven school, so tuition has gone up routinely, and it will go more or less the same as the rest of the university. So financially that’s all they’re going to see.”

Money aside, students enrolling in the nation’s No. 4 veterinary school--as ranked by U.S. News & World Report--enjoy top-notch facilities and faculty. From the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital to the New Bolton Center to more than 260 ongoing research projects, students are immersed in the latest in veterinary teaching and technology.

 Penn Vet’s birth in 1884 came at the behest of the School of Medicine, which recognized the relationship between animal and human health. Out of that movement came the “Many Species, One Medicine” concept.

“Most vet schools were started because of agricultural needs and are located at land-grant institutions in fairly rural settings,” Hendricks says. “We have both a veterinary school in a thriving metropolitan area, completely integrated with a top-ranked medical school, and a beautiful (large animal) campus adjacent to some of the richest farmland and in some of the richest horse country in the U.S. That duality, I think, is really distinctive.”

It’s no secret that gaining admission to Penn Vet is extremely difficult.

“Like every other vet school, we’re looking for a certain level of academic ability. I don’t think that is distinctive,” Hendricks says. “What I do think is distinctive is we’re looking for people who are incredibly curious and avid to learn. They come in open-minded and with experience in veterinary medicine.

“We are particularly interested in someone who’s had some experience that’s unusual for veterinary medicine. The fact that this might be your second career is probably an advantage, not a disadvantage.”

New Bolton Center, 35 miles from the main Philadelphia campus, is world-renowned, offering:

  • George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals, a 24-hour facility that handles 6,000 patients a year, including some of the nation’s most complicated equine cases.
  • Marshak Dairy.
  • The Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, one of three in Pennsylvania.
  • The Laboratory of Aquatic Animal Medicine and Pathology.
  • The William B. Boucher Field Service program, which sends veterinarians to 19,000 animals in the region every year.

New Bolton Center opened in 1954, helping kick off a new brand of veterinary medicine.

“We do think that in the ’60s and ’70s we helped usher in the era of science-based veterinary medicine,” Hendricks says. “We’re proudest that we carry on the tradition of really making sure that the veterinary profession is science-based.”

Looking to the future, Hendricks sees the need for further change in veterinary medicine.

“We are going to have to figure out an economically sustainable model for teaching, for the veterinary hospitals and for practice,” she says. “The whole realm of public veterinary medicine that includes academics, government service, global organizations—the funding model for those is desperately bad. Equine is looking very scary right now.

“The safest place financially to go right now is small-animal practice, but I think we need to be vigilant about that as well because we can easily follow the model of human medicine, which is your health care costs quickly outstrip people’s ability, all of society’s ability, to pay. We should not repeat their mistake.”

Posted: April 7, 2010

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