Accreditation of foreign veterinary schools by the AVMA Council on Education has been in the spotlight ever since this past November when the COE conducted a comprehensive site visit at the National Autonomous University of Mexico School of Veterinary Medicine.
The trip, coinciding with a weak economy and debate over immigration reform, has inadvertently turned the COE's accreditation of foreign veterinary schools into a lightning rod for controversy.
The differences in Association member opinions regarding whether AVMA should continue its role in foreign accreditation were manifest at the AVMA Executive Board meeting June 10-12 in Schaumburg, Ill. Board members held a strategic discussion on the matter and also dealt with two relevant agenda items—a resolution submitted to the AVMA House of Delegates that asks the Association to conduct a benefit-risk analysis of accrediting foreign schools and a recommendation that urged the Association to reaffirm its acceptance of a leadership role in international veterinary medicine.
Because of what we've achieved through accreditation and how we've educated veterinarians and the value we've placed on veterinary medicine, we've been recognized as having standards that other countries want to achieve. … I believe we take this and move it forward and provide other countries with an opportunity (to become accredited). If they're accredited, they (meet the standards).
—DR. JOHN R. BROOKS, DISTRICT II AVMA EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER
The resolution was submitted by the Texas VMA to be considered by the House during its 2010 regular annual session in Atlanta, July 29-30.
According to Texas delegate Dr. Billy D. Martindale, discussions among some members of the TVMA spurred a grassroots effort encouraging the state association's board of directors to put forward a resolution recommending that the AVMA discontinue COE accreditation of foreign veterinary schools altogether. The COE accreditation process began more than 60 years ago with Canada.
The TVMA later decided to submit a resolution asking the AVMA to conduct a benefit-risk analysis of COE accreditation of foreign veterinary schools.
The Association conducted a similar evaluation 12 years ago, after a handful of foreign schools asked to be recognized by the COE. In July 1997, the COE suspended consideration of any new applications for evaluation and approval of veterinary schools outside the United States and Canada. The council then spent a year discussing its role in international accreditation and in April 1998 made three recommendations to the board, one of which was to convene a task force on the issue.
In April 1999, that task force recommended to the Executive Board that the COE resume accepting applications from veterinary schools outside the United States and Canada, and that the AVMA accept a leadership role in international veterinary medicine; both recommendations were subsequently approved.
Dr. Martindale said Texas would like to see a group of individuals selected by the Executive Board give the issue of foreign accreditation a thorough review.
When it came time for Executive Board members to discuss their thoughts on the Texas resolution, some were hesitant to make a recommendation to the HOD so as to give the House an opportunity to consider the resolution without exerting undue influence on the outcome.
Dr. Thomas F. Meyer, District XI board member, explained that he would like to hear how debate on the House floor goes, to gauge the opinions of its members, but suggested that the board should also put forward a recommendation on the resolution as part of its leadership role.
Ultimately, the board unanimously voted to recommend disapproval.
The board had two reasons for recommending disapproval of the resolution—one being procedural, the other philosophical.
Procedurally, Texas' resolution directs the board to assign a task force to perform a benefit-risk analysis of continued COE accreditation of foreign veterinary schools. According to AVMA Bylaws, however, the HOD can recommend that the board take a specific action but cannot mandate that it do so. Thus, the resolution may need to be amended on the HOD floor before proceeding for a full vote.
Regardless, the board didn't agree with Texas' reasoning, listed in the resolution's background, as to why the COE shouldn't accredit foreign veterinary schools, which included concerns about the potential logistical burden and international political pressure.
The TVMA also said it was troubled by the fact that graduates of COE-accredited foreign schools are not required to receive certification from either the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates or the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence.
These programs are intended to ensure the educational equivalence of graduates from schools not accredited by the AVMA.
Dr. Larry G. Dee, District IV board member, recalled the AVMA's evaluation more than a decade ago of whether the COE should continue to accredit foreign veterinary schools.
He said nobody at that time raised concerns about foreign veterinarians coming into the U.S. Instead, the major concern at that time was that another international body would begin accrediting schools but would not maintain the same high standards required for COE accreditation.
The board discussed other benefits to continuing foreign accreditation, such as global recognition of AVMA COE standards, leadership in international educational initiatives, expanded opportunities for U.S. veterinarians, enhanced ability to address public health concerns, collaborative efforts that ultimately help prevent and fight emerging and zoonotic diseases, and improved health and safety in the global food chain.
Dr. John R. Brooks, District II board member, summed up his thoughts this way: "Because of what we've achieved through accreditation and how we've educated veterinarians and the value we've placed on veterinary medicine, we've been recognized as having standards that other countries want to achieve. … I believe we take this and move it forward and provide other countries with an opportunity (to become accredited). If they're accredited, they (meet the standards)."
The Executive Board also considered a recommendation by the Committee on International Veterinary Affairs that asked the board to reaffirm the AVMA policy "Leadership Role for AVMA" as an indication of the AVMA's continued commitment to the COE evaluating foreign veterinary schools for accreditation on a voluntary basis.
After twice debating what action to take, board members voted to postpone considering the recommendation until their Aug. 3 meeting to give the HOD an opportunity to consider the issue in July first.
Foreign schools and dates of accreditation by the AVMA COE
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1940s
University of Montreal
Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada, 1940s
University of Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1988
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1967
State University of Utrecht
Utrecht, Netherlands, 1973
University of London
London, England, 1998
University of Glasgow
Glasgow, Scotland, 1999
The University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland , 2001
Palmerston North, New Zealand 2001
Murdoch, Western Australia, Australia, 2002
The University of Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2005
The University of Melbourne
Werribee, Victoria, Australia, 2006
University College Dublin
Dublin, Ireland, 2007
University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 2008
To learn more about the AVMA COE accreditation process and the veterinary colleges that are accredited, click here.
Please note: the online version of this document contains a correction.