Veterinary education continues expanding

New, existing programs in various states of progress
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The winner of a hospital reuse design competition, real estate developer Chason Affinity depicts a veterinary school that could be built at the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. (Courtesy of Kaleida Health)

The momentum to increase student enrollment at veterinary colleges continues as one institution looks to bump up its class size in the next five years while another—still under construction—seeks accreditation. In addition, a nonprofit announced plans in August to create a new veterinary college in New York, and a new joint program is in the works out West.

Maintaining academic excellence

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has launched an estimated $58 million renovation project, which will upgrade existing facilities and replace the former diagnostic laboratory building that is currently unoccupied. The project will also allow the veterinary college to sustain its class size at 102 (up from 90 a few years ago). At its completion, the initiative would enable Cornell to accept a class of approximately 120 students in the fall of 2017.

There are several factors driving the increase in class size, which grew out of strategic planning efforts in 2007-2008. “Cornell currently has the smallest class size per capita of any state with a veterinary college,” said Dean Michael I. Kotlikoff. “There are many highly qualified New York students who must look for veterinary training elsewhere because Cornell cannot currently accommodate them.”

Although the capacity exists in the hospital to teach a fourth-year class size of 120—and approximately that number of students currently pursue their clinical training at Cornell because of contracts with Caribbean veterinary schools—the veterinary college has not had large enough classroom facilities and teaching laboratories to support that many students in the first three years of the veterinary curriculum. The class expansion facility project will change that.

“In addition to providing greater access for New York State residents, the additional revenue associated with matching the size of the first three years of veterinary education to our clinical capacity will enable the college to ensure the high quality of its instructional programs in the face of state cutbacks,” Dean Kotlikoff said.

So far, the state has agreed to give the veterinary college $250,000 more in operating costs, allowing it to accept 10 percent more students in the first-year class.

Construction on phase one is expected to begin in 2014. It will create two larger-capacity lecture halls suitable for medical education and a unifying atrium that will enhance interactions between students, faculty, and staff; enable demonstrations and public meetings that are secure from other hospital activities; and encourage independent study, collaboration, and professional networking.

Phase two will involve additional renovations—anatomy and clinical skills teaching laboratories, locker rooms, and tutorial rooms—that will repurpose existing space located in the middle of the veterinary college complex that was vacated in 2010 when the new New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory building was opened.

About $36 million in funding is anticipated to come from the New York State University Construction Fund for phase two of the capital project. Cornell University placed the project as its highest priority in the new capital plan for state funds for 2012. Already the veterinary college has received $22 million from the state’s construction fund for phase one.

Dean Kotlikoff acknowledged that when the veterinary college conceived its strategic plan in 2008, it was in a very different financial situation. And there has been a rapid expansion in capacity at veterinary schools as existing ones have enlarged and new schools have been planned.

“That has occasioned a national discussion about the supply. From our alumni, I get emails that say we are participating in the oversupply of the profession,” he said.

Designs on a new school

Cornell may soon have some competition for in-state students if plans for a new veterinary school in Buffalo, N.Y., come to fruition.

Nonprofit health care provider Kaleida Health announced Aug. 28 it had selected local real estate developer Chason Affinity’s $65 million proposal to create a school of veterinary medicine at the site of one of the provider’s hospitals that closed in March. Plans entail using the main hospital building as a veterinary medical teaching hospital with classrooms and support services, and renovating another building to serve as an on-campus residence.

So the way the veterinary profession serves the (expanding) population is by shrinking? I think a profession that limits its future is marginalizing itself. I can’t imagine turning to the 50 percent of pet owners that receive no care, and saying, ‘Gee, please have your pets treated by us’ and then tell students not to become veterinarians.

-Mark Cushing, animal health industry lobbyist and veterinary education consultant

Earlier this year, Kaleida Health released a request for proposals for a hospital reuse design competition to the local and national development communities. It offered a $1 million prize for the winning proposal.

Four firms responded by the May deadline, but only two were seen as viable. Kaleida Health’s board of directors made the final decision to go with Chason Affinity’s proposal.

In a Kaleida Heath press release, Mark Chason, president of Chason Affinity, explained why his firm went with a veterinary school design.

“The rich talent and diversity of a veterinary school brings enormous benefits and spinoffs for a community. Over 50 percent of America’s pets receive no regular veterinary care, so there continues to be a need for veterinarians. As baby boomer veterinarians retire, this need will only grow,” he said.

Chason added that his research showed that the northeast United States has 56 million people and a proportionate number of America’s 180 million pets, but only three veterinary schools: Cornell, Tufts University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Mark Cushing, a veterinary education consultant who has been advising Chason Affinity since this past summer, says it’s a false argument that there are too many veterinarians. He cites the Pew Research Center’s projection that the U.S. population will increase to 438 million by 2050, from 303 million today.

“So the way the veterinary profession serves the (expanding) population is by shrinking?” he asked. “I think a profession that limits its future is marginalizing itself. I can’t imagine turning to the 50 percent of pet owners that receive no care, and saying, ‘Gee, please have your pets treated by us’ and then tell students not to become veterinarians. It’s contradictory and self-defeating.”

Cushing has worked with Ross University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico as they pursued, and eventually received, AVMA Council on Education accreditation. He’s currently involved with Lincoln Memorial University’s efforts to build a veterinary college and earn accreditation as well.

Cushing, also a lobbyist with the Animal Policy Group that works with the animal health industry, said the Buffalo project’s future has been purposely left open to any number of options. “The process has just begun. It will be a long time line for the developer and to get a financing package together,” he said.

Possible tenants include an existing U.S. or international school—European or otherwise—that may want to add a program or facility in an industrial Northeastern city, Cushing said.

He envisions this institution attracting more international students because of its proximity to Toronto’s airport. It’s two hours away and has nonstop flights to many countries.

“There’s an increasing demand for students to attend vet school and get the highest-caliber veterinary training in the world. I think a school in Buffalo will be an attractive magnet. There’s a significant level of interest from foreign students,” he said.

Cushing mentioned there is also the potential for collaboration with Buffalo colleges, which offer undergraduate programs related to animal health, animal behavior, and preveterinary medicine, suggesting a possible fast-track program for admittance to the veterinary school.

Under construction

Another program with plans for an accelerated veterinary curriculum is already being developed at Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary and Comparative Medicine in Harrogate, Tenn. LMU, which announced plans to build a program last year, had a site visit by COE members Oct. 23-27, 2011. During the visit, a team of council members reviewed the university’s plan for creating a veterinary program and assessed existing resources such as budget, facilities, faculty, and administration.

Since then, “The school has been working diligently. It had a consultative site visit and is now taking benefit of that and doing the work needed to become accredited,” Cushing said.

The major building that will be the initial site for the veterinary program is open and operating. Construction continues in three other locations that will house other veterinary activities, including a clinical skills laboratory.

One unique feature of the program will be a large animal teaching and research center at a nearby farm, Cushing said.

He added that work is under way to open the doors. The university is recruiting faculty and senior administrators as well.

Meanwhile, the COE met Oct. 7-9 to decide whether to give LMU a letter of reasonable assurance. Reasonable assurance is not a preaccreditation action by the council. Rather, for a new institution seeking initial accreditation, such a letter, if granted, indicates there is reasonable assurance of future accreditation if the program is established according to plans presented to the COE and if the institution is able to demonstrate a realistic plan to comply with the standards of accreditation.

The LMU veterinary college plans to offer an accelerated six-year combined preveterinary and doctoral-level veterinary medical curriculum that will enroll 100 students a year.

“1+3” program

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine is working with Montana State University to create a new joint program. Up to now, Montana students have gone to WSU, but through the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

Plans call for Montana State to accept up to 10 students annually. They would be trained at the Bozeman, Mont., campus for one year before being sent to WSU to complete the final three years. Over the past five years, the number of Montana students accepted by WSU through WICHE support has ranged from five to nine, with a mean of 6.2. Under WICHE, participating states such as Montana pay $30,000 a year toward qualifying students’ tuition.

A Montana State University preveterinary student works in a laboratory. The university plans to create a partnership with Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. (Courtesy of Montana State University/Kelly Gorham)

Under the new proposal, students would have simultaneous access to WICHE and the new program at Montana State, essentially more than doubling the number of Montana students attending veterinary school.

Margo Colalancia, WICHE student exchange director, argues that Montana should stay with the WICHE program, as it is more cost-effective.

Regardless, momentum for the new program is building. The Montana State Board of Regents Sept. 19 unanimously endorsed funding the proposal. It now goes to the 2013 state legislature for the $2 million needed in the next two years to get it started. If all goes smoothly, the program could begin as soon as fall 2014. The universities estimate it would cost around $500,000 a year to operate and require between $250,000 and $500,000 in start-up costs.

Dr. Douglas P. Jasmer, associate dean of student and academic affairs at WSU, said essentially, the partnership would delay the arrival of Montana students by a year. The main difference appears to be that Montana State—rather than WSU—would determine which students were accepted for the veterinary program.

WSU has a similar joint program with Utah State University. WSU’s veterinary college allows up to 20 Utah residents to be admitted through the “2+2” program. Those students spend their first two years in Logan, Utah, and the remaining two years in Pullman, Wash. The first class of 30 was admitted this fall and will join the 95 students already at WSU in 2014.

Two Arizona schools?

Another Arizona institution is considering creating a veterinary school just as Midwestern University in Glendale is about two years away from opening its veterinary program’s doors.

The Arizona Board of Regents voted Sept. 27 to spend $3 million for the University of Arizona to study the possibility of starting a veterinary program in Tucson. The proposal now goes to Gov. Janice K. Brewer for her signature.

If approved, the veterinary college would eventually serve 100 students per class. Currently, UA’s Department of Veterinary Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has about 350 preveterinary students.

The university already operates a veterinary diagnostic laboratory, multiple laboratory animal research facilities, and a food product and safety laboratory with two working ranches, research farms, and microbiologic research facilities. These facilities already have a connection with UA’s schools of public health, medicine, and pharmacy and a faculty with animal and biomedical expertise, Shane Burgess, vice provost and dean of UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told the Phoenix Business Journal.

Meanwhile, Midwestern University is in the process of developing its veterinary program (see JAVMA, July 1, 2011, page 18). The institution plans to admit its inaugural class of 100 students in fall 2014, with an inaugural class of 100 students. The private, nonprofit university is spending $90 million to build three structures totaling 125,000 square feet on the Glendale campus. Construction is set to begin in January. Midwestern has already solicited applications for top administrative positions and is now accepting applications for faculty members.