Arizona program hopes to start in fall 2020

Program names second interim dean
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Dr. Besselsen
Dr. David Besselsen (Courtesy of University of Arizona)

The University of Arizona's planned Marley Foundation College of Veterinary Medicine in Tucson is back to the drawing board. So far, it has appointed Dr. David Besselsen as interim dean.

Dr. Besselsen had been attending veterinarian and director of University Animal Care, which manages the university's animal facilities and oversees the campuswide animal care and use program.

The UA is once again seeking provisional accreditation from the AVMA Council on Education, which will conduct a site visit in spring 2019. In a Sept. 28 university press release, Dr. Besselsen said his focus will be on coordinating accreditation materials, preparing academic and clinical facilities, and developing a sustainable financial model "that provides an affordable and accessible veterinary medical education program for Arizona's citizens."

The UA started the process to seek COE accreditation when the veterinary college conducted a feasibility study in 2013 and asked that year for a consultative site visit from the COE; the visit took place Jan. 13-15, 2014. Arizona filed a letter of application with the COE in 2014, seeking a letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation. A council site team traveled to Tucson for a comprehensive site visit Jan. 24-28, 2016. That October, the council voted to deny a letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation.

Reasonable assurance does not confer accreditation but is a first step toward earning provisional accreditation and, ultimately, accreditation. The classification means the developing college has demonstrated that it has a realistic plan for complying with COE standards. A college granted reasonable assurance must offer admission to its first class of students and matriculate them within three years.

The University of Arizona is once again seeking provisional accreditation from the AVMA Council on Education, which will conduct a site visit in spring 2019.

The UA appealed the COE decision in December 2016. Then, this past March, the council reversed part of its earlier decision and approved the program's plans for a research program, but issues with four other standards remained (Standard 2, Finances; Standard 4, Clinical Resources; Standard 6, Students; and Standard 8, Faculty). The UA has since reapplied for consideration of accreditation by the COE.

In this effort, Dr. Besselsen will be assisted by Mark Cushing, a policy adviser and attorney in the animal health sector whose track record includes helping three other veterinary colleges secure COE accreditation—at Lincoln Memorial University, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Ross University. Multiple veterinarians who serve on the UA faculty or practice in Arizona will also participate in development of the program, according to the university press release. The UA veterinary college now hopes to open its doors in the fall of 2020.

"David is intimately familiar with the history and evolution of the veterinary medicine program, and has contributed ideas that have helped us reach our current status," UA Provost Andrew Comrie said in the release.

The interim dean will report to Comrie and will work closely with Dr. Shane Burgess, vice president for agriculture, life and veterinary sciences, and Cooperative Extension. Dr. Burgess led the initial effort by the veterinary college to become accredited by the COE as its previous interim dean.

Dr. Besselsen graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in 1988 and worked in private practice for two years before returning to his alma mater to complete residency training and earn a doctorate in pathobiology.

He joined UA in 1995 as an associate veterinary specialist and chief of pathology services for University Animal Care. He was promoted to veterinary specialist in 2002, assistant director in 2006, and director in 2012. Dr. Besselsen also has UA appointments in the BIO5 Institute (for research collaboration), Arizona Cancer Center, and School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences.

The proposed UA program would be the only public veterinary medical education program in Arizona. Midwestern University, a private, not-for-profit health care university based in Glendale, Arizona, received a letter of reasonable assurance from the COE in January 2013. It's on track to receive full accreditation in 2018 at the time its first students are graduating.

The UA's proposed veterinary program is composed of the preprofessional program and the three-year professional veterinary degree program; the COE decision impacts only the professional program. It will not have a traditional teaching hospital, but instead, will have a distributive model in which it will partner with veterinarians at hospitals and clinics throughout Arizona and the western United States for clinical training for students.

Tuition and fees for the program haven't been released, but for comparison, the current rate paid by resident UA pharmacy students is $12,981.05 a semester, or $77,886.30 over three years, and by nonresident pharmacy students, $22,956.05 a semester, or $137,736.30 over three years.

Get more information about the University of Arizona's planned College of Veterinary Medicine.

Related JAVMA content:

Accreditation appeal denied, Arizona plans to try again (June 15, 2017)

Arizona to appeal adverse decision (Oct. 15, 2016)

Accreditation status remains uncertain for Arizona) (July 15, 2016)

Arizona veterinary program secures funding (Oct. 15, 2014)

Arizona veterinary program being reconceptualized (June 15, 2014)