St. George's inching closer to accreditation

More than half of grads practice in U.S.
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Potentially by the end of 2011, there could be not one but two Caribbean veterinary schools accredited by the AVMA Council on Education.

St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine, Grenada, West Indies, received a comprehensive site visit by a council site team April 17-21. The COE could make an accreditation decision at its fall meeting, Sept. 18-20.

SGU campus buildings
All buildings on SGU's campus have been designed by the same architect in the Georgian style with vivid Caribbean colors and built by the same builder. None can be taller than six stories, or about the height of a tall coconut tree, per government building regulations.

Foreign colleges are required to undergo a preliminary or consultative site visit to determine their preparedness for a comprehensive site visit and are required to correct all deficiencies identified by the consultative site team before requesting a comprehensive site visit.

The school, founded in 1999, submitted a self-study report to the COE in 2006, and the council conducted a consultative site visit Feb. 18-22, 2007.

SGU's veterinary school is accredited by the government of Grenada, which renewed the school's accreditation in 2010.

The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions accredits the medical, dental, and veterinary schools in the Caribbean; however, the only veterinary school accredited by the CAAM-HP is the University of the West Indies School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Raymond F. Sis, dean of the SGU veterinary school, said his program hasn't applied to be accredited by CAAM-HP yet because its policies and procedures differ from the COE's.

"We wanted to focus on (COE accreditation) first rather than (CAAM-HP) because we've already started the process for the council," he said, adding that the Caribbean accreditation hasn't been available until recently.

Location, location, location

SGU's veterinary school offers a three-year pre-veterinary program and a four-year DVM-degree program. Both are located at the university's main campus on the True Blue peninsula of Grenada.

Students in the professional program study basic veterinary medical sciences during the first two years. Instruction includes lectures, laboratory classes, and small group sessions. Clinical skills are introduced in the first year and closely integrated with the coursework to demonstrate the clinical application of basic science knowledge (seepage 1536).

Third-year students go on to the introductory stages of their clinical work, including pregnancy diagnosis, anesthesiology, and diagnostic imaging.

The fourth year of the DVM-degree program consists of 48 weeks of off-site clinical training divided into 18 weeks of instruction in six core subjects and 30 weeks of electives. The school is affiliated with 23 U.S. veterinary schools and colleges, two schools in the United Kingdom, and schools in Canada, Ireland, and Australia.

In Grenada, Dean Sis leads a faculty comprising 63 full-time and part-time professors and instructors, who are augmented by visiting and adjunct professors from veterinary schools and colleges in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.

In addition to the professional program, SGU SVM offers a master's in veterinary medical sciences and dual-degree programs with a master's in either business administration or public health (see page 1534).

People and places

SGU's veterinary school has two intakes a year—in August and January. Generally, about 80 students arrive in the fall term and between 50 and 60 in the spring term. Dean Sis said the fall 2010 term had about a 3:1 applicant-to-seat ratio, which is an increase over the past few years.

Currently, about 500 DVM-degree students are enrolled, distributed over the four years. Eighty-five percent, approximately, are from the United States. Foreign students comprise the remaining 15 percent; they have come from 22 countries in the past decade.

Dr. Lisa Lunn, associate professor and director of the Large Animal Medicine & Surgery Academic Program, said the international students provide diversity of thought among classes.

"In lecture, it starts a nice dialogue. For example, I teach food animal medicine and when I talk about foot-and-mouth disease, the traditional U.S. student has no clinical exposure, and hopefully never will, but we frequently have students from Great Britain or Botswana who have seen it and can talk about the devastating effects of the disease and how it affected their community," Dr. Lunn said.

SGU marine laboratory building
The university's marine laboratory building will be expanded in the near future.

To date, about 572 veterinary students have graduated from the school, not including this year's class. Spring and fall terms graduate together each June at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

About 300 SGU veterinary graduates are AVMA members who are spread among 42 states.

"More than likely, the states they aren't licensed in are ones that have few veterinarians, and they don't choose to go there," Dean Sis said.

Having an open dialogue

Students who submit an application to SGU SVM are guided through the process by an admissions counselor who is based at the university's North American offices in Great River, N.Y., and who schedules an interview at an agreed upon location.

The interview is different from traditional veterinary school interviews, explained Dr. Lunn, who chairs the veterinary admissions committee. "We are assessing the candidate's knowledge of the veterinary profession, maturity, and professionalism. But more importantly, the interviewer is able to answer questions the student may have about life in Grenada and the academic program," she said. "By having the opportunity to speak with someone who intimately knows about life in Grenada, our incoming students are able to make an informed decision as to whether St. George's University is a good fit for them."

After the interview, the admissions file is forwarded to the admissions committee for determination. The major academic factors taken into consideration are overall GPA, science GPA, last 45 hours GPA, and GRE scores. Candidates are also evaluated on the scope of veterinary experience, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and their written personal statement. The committee makes sure to take into consideration how the candidate would add to the diversity of the program.

"Our student body is a wonderful mixture of students from many different countries, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and with varied life experiences," which leads to lively, informative class discussions, Dr. Lunn said.

West Indies map

Once the admissions committee has reviewed the files, students accepted into the program are notified by an admissions counselor. Students not accepted are given the opportunity to inquire why they were not competitive for the program. SGU has a rolling admissions policy.

"We get an amazing crew of students. The students who apply here are very competitive. It's just the lack of open seats in the U.S. that we have such great fortune of getting some of these students," Dr. Lunn said.

SGU students' scores on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination have increased in the past few years, from a 78 percent pass rate in 2006 to a 96 percent pass rate in 2010.

Building on a budget

SGU's revenue is derived entirely from student tuition and fees. Tuition for each of the six terms during the three pre-clinical years is $13,255, and that amount increases to $15,387 for the fourth-year clinical terms at other institutions.

Dean Sis said having a stable source of revenue has been an advantage to the school during the economic downturn.

"We've been able to hire qualified faculty who couldn't get positions in the U.S. because positions were frozen," he said. "We've been able to hire board-certified people we may not have been able to hire otherwise."

Likewise, faculty and staff say they are able to procure all the supplies and equipment they need for their classes.

"If we need something for teaching and it's reasonable, nothing's denied. I don't feel constricted as an educator," said Dr. Lunn, who formerly taught at Michigan State University. "Coming from a land-grant with major budget cuts, we were still providing a good education but were told we may have to wait a year to get something."

Provost Allen H. Pensick, PhD, explained that the university was built on a philosophy of having positive cash flow. At the very beginning, buildings started out as dormitories, and as soon as they were paid for, they would be turned into nonrevenue-generating buildings such as office space or classrooms.

"It's kind of neat that it was done that way, because we don't have state funding to build," Dr. Pensick said.

Later, the university transitioned to purpose-build each structure. In total, 68 buildings fill the 44-acre campus.

The veterinary school sits on the northern part of the campus and occupies the Veterinary Surgical Laboratory, which houses two lecture halls and a veterinary surgical teaching laboratory; the Veterinary Basic Medical Sciences building, where most classes and laboratory teaching sessions for the veterinary school take place; the Veterinary Anatomy Laboratory; and veterinary academic offices.

The Small Animal Clinic sits just off campus. The Large Animal Resources facility has been built adjacent to it, and includes a squeeze chute for cattle, equine stocks, new scopes, and a teaching facility for small group laboratories. In addition, there's a separate large animal area that houses horses and cattle.