Universities partner to educate Alaska students

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Some college students in Alaska will be able to complete two years of veterinary education in their home state starting in fall 2015.

Students who complete those two years will be able to complete their studies in Colorado, where they would receive DVM degrees.

Under an agreement signed Dec. 19, 2013, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks will accept 10 veterinary students into its new Department of Veterinary Medicine each year, and students who complete those years will be able to transfer to the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Bio-medical Sciences.

Dr. Todd O’Hara, interim associate dean for veterinary medicine and a toxicology professor at UAF, said his university worked to partner with CSU because the veterinary college has a good academic reputation, and the institutions share interests in biomedical research and efforts to simultaneously improve human, animal, and environmental health.

Dr. Carla Willeto (left), an associate veterinarian at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, shows Lily Ngai, a veterinary student from Colorado State University, how to auscultate a reindeer from a UAF research herd. Ngai was at UAF through an exchange program. (Courtesy of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

“We have a lot of natural resources and humans who are dependent on those natural resources,” Dr. O’Hara said. “And so, we have a natural one-health mission here, and Colorado State was very interested in that.”

Dr. O’Hara said the veterinary program in Fairbanks will emphasize work in public health and rural medicine for domestic animals, wildlife, and fish. The state’s sled dogs also create a need for veterinarians able to provide sports medicine and husbandry services.

Alaska also has novel food security issues—such as those posed by Brucella organisms and lipophilic chemicals—that can affect residents who rely on wildlife for food, he said.

Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of Colorado’s veterinary college, said the partnership will give his university new research opportunities and give its students experiences with more species and ecosystems. He noted that the veterinary college has been sending students to UAF for a summer research exchange program.

Dr. Stetter said that CSU had been planning to expand facilities and programs in the veterinary college in areas such as one health, sports and rehabilitative medicine, and nutrition.

“It certainly works out nicely that, as our hospital facilities and our different programs expand, we’re able to kind of look at new opportunities for both the students here and in Alaska,” he said.

He also expects students transferring from Alaska may not be “of the same mold” as veterinary students of the past, as they will be exposed to a different curriculum that could let them work in new areas of ecosystem health, research, academia, or other subject areas beyond the traditional areas of veterinary medicine.

“We’re very sensitive to the fact that, in the veterinary profession, there’s a lot of concern about the number of veterinary schools, the number of veterinary students that are graduating, and how many veterinarians are needed in the workplace,” Dr. Stetter said. “And because of that sensitivity, we are spending a lot of time looking at much more diverse career opportunities for our students, so they’re not just going into the traditional areas of veterinary medicine.”

Under the agreement, the first two years of tuition for students in Alaska will be equal to that of students in Colorado, expected to be about $27,000 yearly, according to an announcement from Colorado State. When students transfer from Fairbanks to Fort Collins, they will pay nonresident tuition, expected to be about $54,000 yearly when the first class arrives in 2017.

Dr. O’Hara said Alaska’s state government could develop opportunities to pay the difference between the in-state and out-of-state tuition for transfer students in exchange for commitments to return to Alaska after graduation.

“We hope to find a way to pay that difference somehow, but we don’t have a mechanism to do that yet,” he said.

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