Arizona cleared to proceed with veterinary college

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The University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine received a letter of reasonable assurance from the AVMA Council on Education in October after two attempts vying for the accreditor’s approval over six years.

“This show of support from the AVMA paves the way for the University of Arizona to become a leader in veterinary medical education,” said Robert C. Robbins, MD, president of UA, in an Oct. 17 press release.

The COE made its accreditation decision during its Sept. 22-24 meeting at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, following a comprehensive site visit May 12-16 to the Oro Valley campus, about 6 miles north of Tucson, Arizona.

The veterinary college will accept its first class in fall 2020 and anticipates an initial class size of 110 students. The University of Arizona, founded in 1885, is a land-grant institution with two medical schools—one in Tucson and the other in Phoenix. The university, a leading research institution, has $687 million in annual research expenditures.

“Agricultural, ranching, and related industries drive strong demand for veterinarians in our state and across the nation, and Arizona students will now be able to take advantage of an innovative Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program situation within the land-grant, Research-1 setting provided by the University of Arizona at in-state tuition rates,” Dr. Robbins said in the release.

Artist's rendering of UA CVM building
An artist's rendering of the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine in Oro Valley, Arizona (Courtesy of Arizona Board of Regents/University of Arizona)

The veterinary college first sought accreditation from the COE in 2013 with a feasibility study and a request for a consultative site visit, which took place Jan. 13-15, 2014. UA then applied for a letter of reasonable assurance in 2016, but the council voted to deny the letter.

A letter of reasonable assurance is not a pre-accreditation action but indicates that the UA veterinary college may gain accreditation in the future if the program completes all the plans it presented to the COE.

In 2016, UA appealed the council’s decision. The COE reversed parts of its earlier denial and approved the program’s plans for research, but ultimately upheld its decision to deny the veterinary college a letter of reasonable assurance. UA reapplied for the letter in 2017 and finally was successful based on a comprehensive site visit in 2019. If a college can prove that it is making progress towards compliance with the standards of accreditation, it can be granted provisional accreditation. During the provisional accreditation period, graduates are eligible to sit for licensure to practice veterinary medicine.

The planned curriculum at the veterinary college will be designed as a year-round, three-year program. Tuition for Arizona residents will likely be $15,000 per semester and $23,333 per semester for nonresidents; the tuition rates have not yet been approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.

“We have designed our nine-semester continuous curriculum to help address the increasing cost of education. Moreover, the curriculum design provides more frequent vacation breaks than traditional nine-semester programs and synchronizes well with our competency-driven, systems-based educational model,” Dr. Jim Maciulla, associate dean of clinical relations and outreach, told JAVMA News.

Students will spend two years in preclinical courses that use active learning techniques and a “no-lecture” format that is followed by a year in clinical training rotations. The veterinary college will have a distributive model of clinical teaching, placing students among 250 various private and corporate veterinary practices throughout the Southwest for clinical training.

“The year-one and -two preclinical curriculum at Arizona is built to engage students through higher-order thinking and small-group discussion,” Dr. Walter Klimecki, associate dean of academic programs and faculty affairs, told JAVMA News. “Our classrooms are designed for active learning; we have no lecture hall configurations. The focus is on critical thinking, interpersonal communication skills, and student ownership of learning. All key elements of the year-three clinical rotations and, ultimately, of a successful veterinary career.”