Dr. Douglas Freeman, dean, Western College of Veterinary Medicine—University of Saskatchewan, has had a varied career. After his first job at a small mixed-animal practice in Minnesota, he returned to his studies and took a residency in theriogenology and has since held several positions and been on a variety of boards, including service on the board of directors for the Associaton of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. He quips, "I am the ideal poster child for why our veterinary schools should continue to be comprehensive in their education."
Later this year, his school will complete over $70 million worth of expansions and renovations.
Name: Dr. Douglas A. Freeman, dean, Western College of Veterinary Medicine—University of Saskatchewan
Degrees and Schools:
• 1991 — PhD, reproductive physiology, Washington State University/University of Idaho
• 1987 — MS, theriogenology, University of Minnesota
• 1983 — DVM, University of Minnesota
• 1981 — BS, University of Minnesota
Family: Wife Mary; daughter Emma; sons Benjamin and Daniel
Hometown: Saskatoon, Sask. (current); Minneapolis, Minn. (native).
Western College of Veterinary Medicine—University of Saskatchewan.
1. Why did you enter veterinary medicine?
Like many people, I grew up with a variety of animals and always had an interest in animals and medicine. Veterinary medicine was an obvious career choice when I left high school and began college.
2. What was your first veterinary job after graduation?
I was very focused on becoming a mixed-animal practitioner, and that’s exactly what I was when I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1983. My first job was at a five-person mixed-animal practice in southeastern Minnesota, where we had a wide range of cases.
However, I am the ideal poster child for why our veterinary schools should continue to be comprehensive in their education. It was a beautiful place with some great trout streams close by, and although I loved it at first, it wasn’t quite the right fit for me. I moved to an equine practice and then ended up going back to the University of Minnesota for a residency in theriogenology.
3. How and why did you move into academia?
Team of veternarians and vet school students during operation on a bull dog.
I found my niche in academic medicine partially by accident. As I went through my combined master of science and residency program, I realized that I wanted to work at a referral level in an academic setting where there was a variety of challenging cases as well as the opportunity to work on research. That work led to my Ph.D. program, which was vital for a faculty position. When I finished my Ph.D., I went on to find a faculty position in clinical sciences and board certification with the American College of Theriogenologists (ACT).
4. How do you keep up on the state of veterinary medicine?
Veterinary associations and organizations are active and engaged in important issues, so we try to stay involved. On an international level, I’m a past
member of the board of directors for the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and I continue to participate in the AAVMC. There are also numerous publications and listservs that keep veterinary colleges and programs connected.
On regional and national levels, I regularly meet with federal and provincial leaders in veterinary medicine, agriculture and education. I also have the pleasure of meeting and talking with many of our alumni who practice all across North America.
In addition, my travels include opportunities to meet with many of our stakeholders, who can provide me with different perspectives and tell me what they expect from the profession. This constant feedback is critical to our college’s future — it’s how we continue to evolve and remain relevant to the profession and to the public.
5. What does your school look for in choosing students?
Certainly we look for strong academic credentials; our fourth-year veterinary students consistently score higher than average on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination— an excellent indicator of our students’ academic capabilities. But besides a strong academic background, we look for students who have demonstrated their commitment to animal health and welfare through previous jobs and volunteer opportunities in clinical practices and humane societies, on farms and feedlots, or in research labs and wildlife organizations.
We search for students who are eager to explore the variety of options available in today’s veterinary profession and who are used to collaborating with others to solve problems. Finally, we look for men and women who have that certain determination and drive to become a veterinarian — people who have the desire to excel in their chosen field.
6. Many veterinary students graduate today with about $120,000 in loan debt. Can anything be done to reduce that burden?
Over the past few years, annual tuition and student fees at the WCVM have slightly increased to just under $8,000 (Canadian). In comparison to other Canadian veterinary colleges, our tuition rates are somewhere in the middle of the pack.
However, we realize that university tuition is only one bill to pay throughout the school year so we’re expanding our efforts to attract additional student support from our stakeholders. Each year, our college distributes more than $250,000 in awards and bursaries to our students, and we hope to see that number increase over the next few years.
7. Does your school encourage students to go into underserved areas, such as large-animal medicine?
A significant number of our students have gone on to work in rural mixed-animal practice. One major influence is the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre, where students have many opportunities to observe and assist with a variety of primary and referral cases. They may be involved in an intriguing field service call or they may get to spend a weekend caring for sick calves in the bovine ward.
The WCVM is also rejuvenating its mentorship program — moving from the passive “advisor-advisee” system to one in which students and faculty members are more engaged. In addition, we’re working with practitioner groups and provincial veterinary medical associations to include practicing veterinarians in our mentorship program. Our faculty is also discussing plans to implement service learning opportunities supporting underserved and under-represented populations.
8. In recent years, has your veterinary school switched its focus or added new programs?
The WCVM’s revised curriculum, which has been in use since 2007, now includes a variety of elective courses that students take in their third year. These electives give students the chance to focus on special interest areas such as food-animal medicine and equine medicine or specialty areas such as ophthalmology or medical imaging.
On the other hand, the elective courses also give some students a chance to explore various aspects of the profession — such as public health or epidemiology — that they may have never considered. Our students can then hone their interests even further as they select their clinical rotations during their fourth year.
The WCVM and more than a dozen faculty members recently played a major role in developing the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health, and its master of public health degree program. This is the first MPH program in Canada with established links to a veterinary college. This partnership, along with our relationship
with other health sciences colleges on campus, is helping to establish the WCVM as a leader in bringing the One Health concept to life on campus, across Canada and around the globe.
9. Discuss any patents, technologies or procedures your school has had a hand in recently.
Our Veterinary Medical Centre has been recently updating significant technologies, including a new MRI, a new CT scanner and a new linear accelerator. We’ve also initiated nuclear scintigraphy in a new facility at our medical center. The campus is establishing an Institute for Nuclear Studies that will include a cyclotron for creating medical isotopes and a PET scanner.
So, in addition to enhancing our ability to diagnose and treat animal patients, the expertise and technologies available will lead to important translational research. Looking further ahead, the Canadian Light Source (synchrotron) has established a biomedical beamline. Our faculty are heavily involved in this
project, which is unique globally.
10. What are you most proud of about your school?
Later this year, we will complete over $70 million worth of expansions and renovations to our facilities. The result is a veterinary college with outstanding facilities that are on par with any veterinary institution in North America. We have a thoughtful and dynamic new curriculum.
I’m also proud of the partnerships that the WCVM has with other colleges, academic centers and organizations in the broader areas of human health, public health and environmental health.
But most of all, I’m proud of our people — our students, faculty, staff and alumni. Their spirit, enthusiasm and desire to excel are at the heart of this college’s success.
Dr. Douglas Freeman completed a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, a clinical residency and a master of science degree in theriogenology at the University of Minnesota. He received a Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the University of Idaho and is a diplomate in the American College of Theriogenologists.
During his 28-year career, Dr. Freeman has gained a valuable range of experience as a veterinary practitioner, a faculty member in both academic and clinical science departments, and an administrator. He has worked in academic institutions in the United States as well as overseas. His experience includes private veterinary practice with an emphasis on production animals and horses. He was also involved in providing veterinary professional services in the animal health industry. His research and professional interests include equine reproduction, animal welfare and veterinary public health.
From 2001 to early 2010, Dr. Freeman was a professor and head of two departments — Veterinary Diagnostic Services and Veterinary and Microbiological Sciences — at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. During his term at North Dakota State University, Dr. Freeman served as director of the NDSU’s Great Plains Institute of Food Safety for two years, and led multidisciplinary research programs in disease surveillance, public health and food safety.
He was selected as an American Council on Education Fellow in 2006, spending one year at the University of Minnesota where he gained experience in academic leadership and administration of the university’s Academic Health Center. Dr. Freeman began his five-year term as dean of the WCVM on March 1, 2010.
Dr. Freeman is a past president of the American College of Theriogenologists and a past member of the Board of Directors for the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. As well, he is a member of the University of Saskatchewan’s Council of Health Science Deans and represents the WCVM within the Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine.
Under Dr. Freeman’s leadership, the veterinary college has attained seven years of accreditation with the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education (2011-2018). He is leading the WCVM through the final phase of its seven-year, $71-million infrastructure project that will be completed in 2011 along with an expanded equine performance center. He is currently working to develop the WCVM’s human and technological resources in the areas of veterinary oncology and food safety and security — two areas that the college is focusing on for the future.