Texas veterinary education expanding, one way or another

A&M, Tech push forward with respective plans
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Dueling initiatives on how to address veterinary needs in Texas continue to develop.

In July 2016, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted a report reiterating the critical shortages of large animal and rural veterinarians in Texas.

A few months before the report came out, Texas Tech University announced it would form a School of Veterinary Medicine on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in the Panhandle city of Amarillo. Soon thereafter, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in College Station revealed its long-awaited plans to expand veterinary education, research, and undergraduate outreach into several regions through its own network.

Most recently, Texas A&M University, which currently has the state's only veterinary college, announced it would start to create a larger presence in the Panhandle, while Texas Tech received a funding boost for its proposed veterinary school in the same area.

West Texas A&M

The Texas A&M University System Regents March 8 revealed plans for a $22.8 million building on the West Texas A&M University campus for veterinary education, research, and workforce opportunities in the Panhandle as part of almost $90 million in new commitments to the state's agriculture industry.

Texas A&M University's new Veterinary Education, Research, and Outreach Center will be built adjacent to West Texas A&M University's new Agricultural Sciences Complex and the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory facility, currently in the process of being relocated from Amarillo to Canyon, according to a university press release.

Once the VERO Center is completed in 2020, students from Texas A&M's veterinary college will be able to take courses, participate in externship programs, and conduct research there. Opportunities for research and collaboration with faculty and staff at the TVMDL, West Texas A&M's Agricultural Sciences Complex, and the veterinary college's VERO Center will be available to students from both Texas A&M and West Texas A&M. The TAMU campus in College Station is located about 520 miles southeast of West Texas' campus in Canyon.

Pursuing funding, accreditation

Meanwhile, the Texas Tech University System continues moving ahead with building its own veterinary school.

In 2017, Texas Tech's proposed School of Veterinary Medicine received a $4.2 million appropriation from the Texas Legislature for planning purposes. Texas Tech officials have estimated the total cost at $80 million to $90 million; they have committed to not asking the state to cover construction costs. This May, the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. committed to a minimum of $15 million and up to $69 million toward the school's construction. One requirement is that Texas Tech continue to raise construction funds to offset Amarillo's commitment. Already, other philanthropic commitments have helped the institution to reach its goal.

Plans are to build a main veterinary facility on the Texas Tech Amarillo Campus near its Health Sciences Center. Another facility would be built less than 2 miles away for clinical skills training on production animals, Dr. Guy Loneragan, professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University, told JAVMA News.

Tech officials have argued that because the veterinary school would have a distributive clinical education model rather than an on-site teaching hospital, students would get clinical experience in Texas Panhandle veterinary practices and be more inclined to stay in the region.

Texas Tech reached out to the AVMA Council on Education for a consultative site visit, which is scheduled for spring 2019. The program's feasibility study (PDF), released in May. From there, the veterinary school anticipates a comprehensive site visit in spring 2020. Should it receive a letter of reasonable assurance, Texas Tech could enroll students as soon as fall 2021. Dr. Loneragan said the program has engaged the services of two former veterinary college deans to guide it through the accreditation process.

Annual tuition at the proposed veterinary school is estimated to be $21,165.

A rendering of the planned Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo (Courtesy of Texas Tech)

Report on veterinary education

The race to increase the number of veterinary graduates in the state is nothing new. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has long received questions as to whether Texas needed a new veterinary school and whether workforce needs could support the production of more large animal veterinarians. The board had researched the topic in 2002 and 2009. In both instances, the board reported there was no need for a second veterinary college; however, in 2009, it said that Texas A&M's veterinary college could increase enrollment to meet future state needs.

As a result, Texas A&M invested $120 million to construct a teaching complex, which opened in 2016, and increased its enrollment by about 20 students, up to 155 per class. That same year, anticipating its expanded capacity for enrollment, the veterinary college announced partnerships with four TAMU System institutions—West Texas A&M University, Tarleton State University, Prairie View A&M University, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville—to encourage underrepresented minorities and rural students to pursue veterinary education.

An initial focus was placed on the partnership with West Texas A&M, where the veterinary college established the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center in 2016 and hired Drs. Dee Griffin and Dan Posey to build a program to address regional industry needs and enhance interest among students. Those students, officials hope, will return to rural areas in West Texas to work as veterinarians. In 2017, WT sent nine preveterinary graduates to A&M, according to a TAMU news release.

The coordinating board revisited the issue of veterinary educational needs in the state and released a new report (PDF) in July 2016. It said, "No new college of veterinary medical education that primarily produces small animal veterinarians is recommended at this time. The high cost of establishing a new veterinary school would outweigh the potential benefits to the state, given the small to moderate workforce demand and the issue that building a new school would not guarantee that any of the graduates would practice on livestock, which is the state's principal area of need, but there are more cost-effective ways of addressing the need for medical care for food animals in Texas."

Specifically, the report recommended addressing the pending shortage of large animal veterinarians in the following ways:

  • Fund the Rural Veterinarian Incentive Program created by the state.
  • Create undergraduate programs in veterinary science that allow a greater scope of practice.
  • Consider a proposal designed to produce large animal veterinarians in an innovative, cost-efficient manner that does not duplicate existing efforts.

Feasibility study

The board report has not deterred Texas Tech's resolve to move forward.

"Texas is home to one of the world's best and most affordable veterinary medical programs in the country," Dr. Loneragan said. "The growth in Texas, however, has outstripped the capacity that any one institution can meet. We are a state that rapidly is approaching 30 million people, with huge urban centers and vast agricultural areas with expansive and intensive agricultural enterprises.

"Because of a lack of veterinary medical educational capacity within Texas, we now overwhelmingly rely on out-of-state and out-of-country programs for our workforce. Too many Texans are forced out of Texas to pursue veterinary education, and as a consequence, those students effectively cannot access affordable education in Texas.

"Texas Tech's proposed veterinary school is designed—from student selection, to curriculum, to its very buildings—to address these tenets," he said. "In that way, we will complement and not duplicate existing efforts."

Related JAVMA content:

New Texas veterinary school plan still alive (July 15, 2017)

Veterinary education expanding in Texas (April 1, 2016)