Fast forward for veterinary school

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Eight years. Four hundred sixteen weeks. Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty days. That's the average time it takes a student to make the journey from high school graduate to doctor of veterinary medicine. Now imagine taking that trip in roughly half the time. Would it work?

 The University of Arizona thinks so, and it's asking its state to fund an initial $250,000 study to find out. Shane Burgess, BVSc, PhD, is a veterinarian, vice provost and dean of the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He's taken the university's plan to House and Senate committees. If the Legislature includes money for the study in this year's budget, Burgess would like to complete the economic study in time for the next legislative session.

 "We're looking at a model that will decrease the cost of a degree dramatically and also be a positive economic stimulus to the state's economy. So everybody wins," Burgess says. "If the study shows our plan works and makes sound business sense, we'll pursue it, and if not, we won't."

 Three factors are driving the University of Arizona's plan. The first is its concern that every veterinary student in Arizona becomes an out-of-state student. Burgess says that's the most expensive way to become a veterinarian. "The total direct costs for an Arizonan to obtain a veterinary degree are between $225,000 and $250,000 from high school to qualification," Burgess says.

 A small fraction of these students receive state assistance, which means the government is sending that money out of state. Plus, the state is not generating the revenues it could be by having its own veterinary education program. "So we believe not only is this good to decrease the students' cost, but it will also be an economic driver for the state of Arizona," Burgess says.

 The second factor, Burgess says, is the mismatch in the veterinary profession between salaries and the cost of education—which they plan to address by decreasing the time it takes a student to obtain a degree. The third driver is the need to create a program that broadens veterinary students' focus to include opportunities beyond companion animal medicine, such as bioeconomy, food safety, border safety and large animal medicine, Burgess says.

Almost all the infrastructure needed for the school exists already. Burgess says the university's multimillion-dollar research program, medical school, public health school, pharmacy school and the multiple farms and ranches the university owns would easily allow the school to add a veterinary college. "We are confident, based on other models doing this on a similar time frame that are also AVMA-accredited—and we have talked to the AVMA already—that we will be able to find a way within our system," Burgess says. "Now, we may be wrong, and if that's the case, we won't go any further. But I don't suspect we'll be wrong."

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