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Courtesy of WesternU

On March 14, 2003, Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine, Pomona, Calif., sent out acceptance letters for its charter class. Shortly thereafter, the AVMA Council on Education granted the college provisional accreditation.

The council made its decision on the basis of a letter of reasonable assurance that the council gave the college on March 5, 2001, subsequent semiannual reports documenting progress, and the college's acceptance of its first class.

By late May 2003, the new college had accepted and received deposits from 86 students who plan to attend this fall. These students will be greeted with a curriculum that differs from other colleges' curricula in three ways, according to Dr. Shirley Johnston, dean of the WesternU College of Veterinary Medicine.

"The first has to do with a very strong focus on student-based learning, which is similar to curricula at veterinary colleges at Cornell University and Mississippi State University," Dean Johnston said. "This is opposed to more teacher-centered learning with lectures and passive learning as the primary mode of instruction."

During the first two years of the academic program, students will participate in a problem-based learning curriculum, which emphasizes learning basic sciences in the context of case studies and focusing on students mastering the ability to be self-directed learners. Students also will acquire communication and team-building skills as they cooperate to learn veterinary concepts.

Second, WesternU is committed to a reverence for life philosophy. "We obtain anatomy cadavers through a willed-body program as is used in human medicine," Dean Johnston said. In addition, WesternU students will master clinical skills first with a variety of models and simulations, and then with procedures on animals that need them for medical reasons. "Many other schools obtain animals from pounds or purpose-bred animal dealers for terminal-surgery laboratories, whereas our model will be nonconsumptive," she explained.

The third way the college differs from others, according to Dean Johnston, is in putting more emphasis on partnerships and alliances with veterinary practices and other institutions. These include zoos and laboratory animal facilities, regulatory agencies, and other universities.

WesternU's provisional accreditation status can remain in effect for no more than five years. During this time, the college must provide evidence, including semiannual reports, to ensure future compliance with each Standard Requirement for an Accredited College of Veterinary Medicine, explains Dr. Donald Simmons, director of the AVMA Education and Research Division and staff consultant to the Council on Education. The council will collect and evaluate additional evidence through site visits and may also request other information and documentation.

"We are continuing to implement the plan that the AVMA Council on Education approved," Dean Johnston said. "Our first building is scheduled to be done in June. We have a second building planned. We are continuing to hire faculty. We are continuing to develop our curriculum. And, as we hire faculty, we will begin to advance our research mission." As long as the college maintains accredited status, it will also continue to admit new classes.

The council will keep a watchful eye to protect the interests of enrolled students. The college must provide continuing evidence that its developing program will comply with the standards and its plan, and may remain on provisional accreditation status for only five years.

The council's next site visit is scheduled for the fall of 2004, the first semester of the second year of the inaugural class. The visit will be a full site audit wherein a self-study describing the program and additional plans must be submitted to the council.

From a funding standpoint, the college may have a leg up—it is a private nonprofit and doesn't receive state funding. Many state schools are feeling the crunch.

"We have developed our budget based on a combination of tuition revenue, grants, contracts, and gifts," Dean Johnston said. "The state economic downturn will not directly impact us, because we do not receive state funding. That is something that I see as an advantage of private schools in these challenging economic times."