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March 15, 2021

Veterinary colleges continue to prepare students to enter profession

Upcoming graduates just as competent, if not more adaptive, having learned through a pandemic
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Dr. Sandra Faeh, AVMA vice president and part owner of four small animal veterinary hospitals in Illinois, wouldn’t hesitate to hire a 2021 veterinary college graduate.

“Schools have been able to do an excellent job,” Dr. Faeh said. “These students will be better prepared in different ways.”

Dr. Amanda Fales-Williams with second-year veterinary students
Dr. Amanda Fales-Williams (center), professor and chair of veterinary pathology at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, participates in a laboratory with second-year veterinary students. (Photo by David Gieseke/Iowa State University)

Despite receiving an education amid a pandemic, which—because of public health measures—has led to more virtual classes and curriculum changes, the majority of students have learned the same skills as previous classes, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Academic Affairs Committee, a working group that specifically examined the issue. The group has done some analysis of whether the COVID-19 pandemic has compromised the quality of veterinary education. It concluded pandemic-era veterinary graduates are well trained, according to an AAVMC newsletter.

The AVMA is also fully supportive of the class of 2021. The Association released a statement commending and congratulating the soon-to-be graduates.

“The AVMA offers its congratulations to the Class of 2021,” according to the statement. “We are confident that these new graduates are prepared to thrive as they embark upon their professional careers. In completing their educations during the COVID-19 pandemic, they demonstrated exceptional resilience and adaptability that will serve them well in their future endeavors. We also salute veterinary college administrators, faculty, and staff who, in the face of unprecedented challenges, worked tirelessly to ensure that their students received the excellent training expected from the AVMA Council on Education–accredited colleges. It is with great pleasure that we welcome the Class of 2021 to the noble and essential profession of veterinary medicine. We are proud and honored to have them as colleagues.”

Student confidence

Dr. Nicholas Frank, associate dean for academic affairs at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, said many veterinary students are nervous about graduation.

“Even under normal circumstances, many students feel worried about their abilities as they near the end of their training and start looking for jobs,” he said. “The overall stress of the pandemic is likely to be making this worse, and it is understandable that you have concerns.”

Dr. Frank, 2021-22 chair of the AAVMC Academic Affairs Committee, said many employers expect to provide new graduates with further guidance. He said to focus on asking for feedback and requesting assistance as key strategies for success in any environment.

“You have seen the importance of practicing team-based veterinary medicine during the pandemic and the benefits of having a strong community, so keep these in mind as you take the next step,” he tells fourth-year students.

Dr. Jared Danielson, associate dean of academic and student affairs at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said students are still learning the skills they need.

“We have a set of graduation requirements that are based on accreditation and clinical skills they have to prove they can do,” said Dr. Danielson, 2019-20 chair of the AAVMC Academic Affairs Committee. “We have not changed those things, and our students are doing just fine.”

Dr. Anne Barger, a clinical professor in veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, said she stands behind the curriculum at the veterinary college.

“Students are still in the clinic and participating in clinical rotations,” she said. “By the time they’re ready to graduate, we make sure they’re ready. I don’t think a university lets a student pass through without being confident (in the student’s abilities). … Our fourth-year students are in the clinics, and they get all the experience they normally would but in a smaller group, with remote rounds, too, but they still do surgery and deal with patients.”

Veterinary colleges have used many tools to adapt during the pandemic, such as investing in various lecture-capturing systems, adopting a hybrid curriculum that breaks students into smaller groups for in-person learning and clinical training, and using online discussion forums to engage students.

Hiring new graduates

Dr. Jodi A. Korich, associate dean for education at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and 2020-21 chair of the AAVMC Academic Affairs Committee, said employer concerns about hiring new graduates are unwarranted.

“Student exam performance has actually improved, in my personal experience, and our fourth-year students on clinical rotations are actually outperforming previous cohorts,” she said. “Veterinary students are intelligent and resourceful. They have worked very hard to be admitted to veterinary college, and I believe this same work ethic and drive will carry them successfully through the pandemic. Veterinary students trained during the pandemic will continue to be well prepared upon graduation, but will have also acquired strong resiliency skills.”

Dr. Danielson agrees. He said the pandemic may make new graduates even more ready to enter the profession.

“This whole pandemic and everyone’s response has been a seasoning and maturing experience for everybody, and that includes our students,” he said. “If I were an employer and able to get a great student coming out of this class, I would jump on it. I would know I have someone that is good at adapting and that’s what you want out of an employee. I know what I am getting.”

Dr. Yuki Nakayama (right) teaches veterinary students
Dr. Yuki Nakayama (right) teaches veterinary students at the Luke and Lily Lerner Spay/Neuter Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University on Nov. 17, 2020. (Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

What’s ahead

While there have been improvements in several areas, some students who are just beginning their veterinary education are concerned, too.

Dr. Barger spoke to a few who have mentioned being nervous, but she said they’re adjusting.

“I think they’ll feel better once they get to the clinic and it starts to click together,” she said. “I’ve been blown away by how patient and resilient our students have been. There is a feeling that we are all in this together. Their dedication to this profession is inspiring. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get this done, and so are our faculty and staff. It is an amazing time for our profession.”