Incentive created for veterinarians switching to research

Published on October 01, 2009
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A new fellowship program partners nonprofits, industry, and academia to provide veterinarians a way to pursue a career in research. The sponsors hope the initiative will help solve the critical shortage of animal health scientists.

Seven students have been selected to participate in the Pfizer Animal Health-Morris Animal Foundation Veterinary Fellowship for Advanced Study program this year:

  • Dr. Kevin J. Esch, Iowa State University, canine research
  • Dr. Miriam Kool, University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, canine research
  • Dr. Joshua A. Stern, Washington State University, canine research
  • Dr. Melissa Clark, University of Illinois, feline research
  • Dr. Allen Page, University of Kentucky, equine research
  • Dr. Nichol E. Schultz, University of Minnesota, equine research
  • Dr. Margaret E. Wilson, Michigan State University, equine research

Recipients can be either practicing veterinarians returning to pursue a doctorate or professionals with a doctorate who wish to pursue a veterinary degree. Each fellow receives $60,000 per year for four years—provided equally by MAF, Pfizer Animal Health, and the student's academic institution—for living expenses and tuition. The veterinary colleges submit applications on behalf of potential recipients.

Fellows are provided with mentored research activities, focusing on basic or applied research to benefit companion animals, horses, or wildlife. As part of their training, each fellow will spend eight to 12 weeks participating in a research project at Pfizer Animal Health. Graduates must remain in animal health research for at least four years. In all, the program commits a minimum of nearly $1.7 million over four years. It has yet to be determined whether additional students will be chosen next year, depending on additional funding.

According to results from the 2009 AVMA annual survey of graduating fourth-year students from U.S. veterinary schools and colleges, 88.6 percent had debt at the time of their graduation, and all but 9.6 percent of that debt was incurred while the students were in veterinary school.

In 2009, the mean student debt was $129,976 for students who had debt. Nearly a third of those students had debt of $150,000 or more.

"New discoveries in animal health, which also may improve human health, will not occur without new scientists seeking solutions," said Dr. Patricia N. Olson, president and CEO of the Morris Animal Foundation, in an Aug. 31 press release.

"By providing students with a living wage while they pursue advanced scientific training, this fellowship program opens the door to new careers for veterinary professionals and helps ensure the future of veterinary medical advances."

Dr. Steven C. Budsberg, chair of the AVMA Council on Research, thinks the program is an excellent idea. He notes it is one way to get people back into research.

"As another example, veterinary medicine needs to also support two-year fellowships in research programs, which can help people get into research fields without completing a PhD," Dr. Budsberg said.

Pfizer Animal Health, one of six business units of the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company, invests an estimated $300 million annually in discovering and developing veterinary prescription medicines and vaccines.