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In the Company of Scientists at Washington State


Students anxious to dive into a veterinary education don’t have to wait long at Washington State University.

First-year students spend lots of time in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which sees 15,000 animals a year.

“We realized that students do better if they’re not stuck in a classroom for two years solidly,” says Charlie Powell, public information officer for the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We want to begin integrating them into the Teaching Hospital and into learning and understanding medical tasks and medical tests as early as possible. It helps to maintain their interest.”

The teaching hospital is arguably a campus jewel.

“The newest iteration opened in 1996,” Powell says. “It features a linear accelerator, an MRI, CT scan, advanced nuclear scintigraphy, those types of things. We have facilities that are equipped as well as anyone else’s in the world.”


At a Glance

Location: Pullman, Wash.

Degree Programs: DVM, DVM/MS, DVM/Ph.D., DVM/MPH

Class of 2012 Applicants: 1,070

Admitted: 98

Yearly Tuition and Fees: $18,357 (Washington, Idaho and WICHE certified), $45,368 (non-resident)

Room and Board: $9,200

Website: www.vetmed.wsu.edu

Founded in 1889, the College of Veterinary Medicine is the fifth oldest in the U.S.


“With that type of history comes a long legacy and a large alumni base,” Powell says. “Washington State veterinarians are probably some of the most loyal and devout out there. It’s really an unusual family that a student chooses to join when they come to WSU.”

The 100 or so students admitted each year are exposed to some of the nation’s most celebrated faculty members and researchers. Among them:

  • Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., who researches animal behavior and holds the Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science.
  • Robert Ritter, VMD, Ph.D., and his wife, Susan Ritter, Ph.D., who research the relationship between the animal brain and food intake.
  • Guy Palmer, DVM, Ph.D, Dipl. ACVP, the Regents professor of pathology and infectious diseases. He was inducted into the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine in 2006.
  • Terry McElwain, DVM, Ph.D, Dipl. ACVP, a professor of pathology. He joined the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine in 2009.
  • Animals native to the Pacific Northwest, especially bighorn sheep and grizzly bears, are an important part of veterinary research at Washington State.

“One of the issues bighorn sheep face is that on occasion a wave of hemorrhagic pneumonia occurs and results in some massive die-offs,” Powell says. “We have been researching what the causative agents for that are, what the reasons for that infection occurring are, and how that can be controlled. We have the foremost wild sheep research facility in the world.”

Washington State’s Bear Program houses adult grizzlies for cardiac research.

“The reason we look at grizzly bears is because when a grizzly hibernates, its heart rate slows down to somewhere around six to 12 beats a minute,” Powell says. “Its blood consistency becomes like thick gravy. It doesn’t eat, doesn’t drink, doesn’t urinate, doesn’t defecate, but it gives birth and lactates [while hibernating].

“Bears also lose little to no muscle mass and bone mass during that period of hibernation. We’re doing cardiology research to look at how their heart adapts to hibernation and learning from that to potentially treat bradycardia in other animals or perhaps in humans.”

Other highlights in the College of Veterinary Medicine include:

  • The School for Global Animal Health, which was launched in 2008 with a $25 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The school will focus on solving infectious diseases through research, education and global outreach.
  • The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, where Dr. McElwain serves as executive director. “It is one of the 12 founding diagnostic laboratories in the national animal health laboratory network,” Powell says. “It serves a vital function for food safety and animal disease control in the Pacific Northwest, doing somewhere over 500,000 tests a year.”
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Disease Research Unit, in operation at Washington State since 1938. “It’s probably the most successful cooperative agreement that has ever existed between a veterinary college and the USDA,” Powell says. “USDA scientists and WSU scientists work hand in hand and share appointments and teach classes together. It’s virtually seamless in terms of how the people operate together under one roof.”
  • The Robert P. Worthman Anatomy Museum, which houses animal skeletons and sections. These include “everything from the classic bleached-white bone that you see in any depiction of a museum to freeze-dried sections of animals that will, of course, never decay and can be viewed many different ways and sectioned many different ways to provide insight into the anatomy,” Powell says.

Not far from the veterinary complex are dairy, swine and beef centers. About 300 miles west in the city of Puyallup, in the heart of Washington’s poultry production area, is an avian health laboratory.

Just a few miles east is the state of Idaho, which contracts with Washington State for a guaranteed number of seats in each veterinary class. Twelve Idahoans were admitted to the Class of 2012 as part of an arrangement Powell calls “a very valuable resource for the state of Idaho.”

Teamwork is essential to succeeding at the College of Veterinary Medicine. For first-year students, the collaboration starts very early.

“In the first week, before students actually enroll in classes, our students are taken to a camp in another community and taken through a number of bonding exercises and seminar series,” Powell says. “We want that class of veterinary students to bond together and realize they are now working with their colleagues and are not competitors. We do look for highly competitive students, but once they get here, though, that sort of competiveness is over and we want them to show a more collegial look.”

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