On the Scene in ’15: Another Veterinary School

The University of Arizona is on its way to opening the 31st veterinary school in the United States.

Horse farm at University of Arizona.

University of Arizona

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Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Veterinary Practice News

The University of Arizona is on the fast track to opening the nation’s 31st veterinary school just one year after Midwestern and Lincoln Memorial universities launched their inaugural classes days apart.

A $9 million gift from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation was announced Aug. 22, providing seed money necessary for establishment of the year-round Veterinary Medical and Surgical Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While some veterinary schools require years of planning and construction before the first students enroll, Arizona expects to throw open the doors next fall to an inaugural class of about 100. The university will forgo a teaching hospital and instead focus on a distributive brand of education by sending students to private practices and government agencies, where clinical skills will be taught.

Another selling point—one emphasized on the school website—is that graduates may land jobs at a younger age than most other veterinary degree holders.

“Students do not necessarily need an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite to apply for admission,” said Bethany Rutledge, the college’s director of administration and communications. “It should save time for students who would automatically spend eight years in total progress toward a DVM.”

Across the United States and Canada, about 10 percent of the Class of 2017 did not hold a bachelor’s degree at the time of admission, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

Student applications and admissions are on hold in Tucson pending a letter of reasonable assurance from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education, Rutledge said. The accreditation body made a consultative site visit in January, and a comprehensive visit is expected to take place soon.

The cost of tuition and fees has not been determined. Arizona’s College of Medicine is charging state residents $30,283 and out-of-state students $49,472 in the 2014-15 academic year.

Noble Jackson, DVM, MS, an associate professor in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, is confident the four-year veterinary program will be ready for students next fall. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences already awards bachelor’s degrees in veterinary science and animal sciences.

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“We are really asset-rich in terms of developing a program,” Dr. Jackson said. “We have numerous veterinarians employed at our Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and at other parts of the University of Arizona. We also have numerous agricultural assets: a working ranch in the northern part of the state and a farm on campus.”

Established off-campus facilities are located in:

  • Douglas, a town on the Mexico border and an inspection point for cattle. Students also may be taught public health, food safety, rural medicine and shelter medicine.
  • Yuma, another border point and a prime wildlife corridor. Veterinary students may partner with wildlife biologists and with experts from Arizona Western College.
  • Maricopa, which is south of Phoenix and hosts a 2,100-acre research farm.
  • Verde Valley, the central Arizona home to numerous cattle and horse ranches.

The announcement came three days before Midwestern University, a nonprofit institution, greeted its first veterinary students 125 miles away in Glendale, Ariz. In just 12 months, the state could go from no veterinary schools to two.

The University of Arizona defended its decision to open another veterinary school, saying the program “will help address the critical veterinarian shortage in rural Arizona communities and tribal nations, benefit bioscience businesses and promote public health.”

Arizona residents are at a disadvantage under the former veterinary school lineup, said Shane Burgess, Ph.D., vice provost and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Arizona students pay higher costs through nonresident or private tuition, incur more debt and often stay in the practices or seek employment with the out-of-state veterinary practices and companies where they intern as part of the out-of-state education,” Burgess said. “We need the smart and dedicated people we train to stay here. Arizona’s hard-earned tax dollars need to promote Arizona’s future.”

Keeping Arizona residents at home after graduation is an objective of Midwestern University, too.

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“We have recruited our inaugural class of 102 students from the state of Arizona and around the country to ensure that when they graduate, we will improve the workforce without inundating the market with new veterinarians,” said Kathleen H. Goeppinger, Ph.D., Midwestern’s president and CEO. “It is a careful balancing act that we have worked very hard to achieve—addressing shortages while providing geographic balance of our student body.”

Midwestern is building small and large animal teaching hospitals as part of $180 million in spending on its new college.

“Midwestern has developed a strong four-year veterinary medicine program that is considered the gold standard in veterinary education,” Goeppinger said. “We have met and surpassed all the requirements of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s accreditation process to receive their approval to launch our inaugural class.”

The $9 million grant from the Marley Foundation won’t come close to covering the costs of Arizona’s veterinary medicine program.

“We are seeking further philanthropy to assist us in renovating facilities in Tucson,” Rutledge said. “The gift allows us to provide student scholarships. It’s a big deal for the infrastructure of the program.”

The decision to go without a teaching hospital was based partly on cost considerations and the idea that students would benefit from off-campus training, administrators said.

“A teaching hospital also creates a level of competition with private practitioners,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to compete with practicing veterinarians. We want to engage them and have them help teach our students in a hands-on clinical setting.”

Students will be sent not just to private practices for clinical training but to partners such as federal and state animal health laboratories, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and animal shelter and rescue agencies.

“For me, real-world experience is something that is oftentimes lacking when students come to us,” said Richard Panzero, DVM, of River Road Veterinary Clinic in Tucson.

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Dr. Panzero, a member of the program’s consultative board, called the distributive model “probably the way of the future.”

“The UA program will provide students with an additional semester of professional training versus the traditional four-year program—more in the way of hands-on experience and more time to digest the massive amounts of information required of a veterinary student,” he said.

The birth of schools at the University of Arizona, Midwestern and Tennessee’s Lincoln Memorial will increase first-year DVM enrollment nationwide by 10 percent, or 297 students. Just shy of 3,000 first-year veterinary students entered 28 schools in 2013.

Andrew T. Maccabe, DVM, MPH, JD, the executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, has said that rising enrollment numbers aren’t out of step with society’s needs. Even in a post-recession economy, he said, nearly all graduates find work in the field within six months.

AAVMC has no influence over the number or size of veterinary schools, Dr. Maccabe said.

“Decisions to create new colleges and schools of veterinary medicine are made by autonomous educational institutions based upon the needs of the stakeholders they serve,” he said. “The AAVMC does not determine the need for more veterinary schools and colleges; we advocate on behalf of our member institutions to create the most productive operating environment possible for academic veterinary medicine.”

In the end, Arizona is sure to benefit, Maccabe said.

“Discussions have been underway for many years regarding the need to develop a college of veterinary medicine to serve the state of Arizona,” he said. “With one college open and another on the horizon, it seems as though the people, agricultural and companion animals in Arizona will be well-served by modern veterinary medicine.”

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