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Two of the newest U.S. veterinary colleges, located at the University of Arizona and Texas Tech University, have actually been a long time in the making. Formal conversations about a second veterinary school in Texas first started in the 1970s. The earliest reference to establishing a veterinary college at the University of Arizona occurred about nearly 50 years ago.
JAVMA News spoke with faculty members, staff members, and students at the two veterinary programs in the process of receiving accreditation from the AVMA Council on Education.
Left: An aerial view of the Oro Valley Campus of the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine (University of Arizona photos by David Sanders/University of Arizona) Right: Texas Tech University’s Amarillo campus has traditional Spanish Renaissance architecture and serves as the School of Veterinary Medicine’s academic headquarters. (Texas Tech images courtesy of Texas Tech)
Each veterinary program is working to build a competency-based curriculum and train future veterinarians in its own ways.
Dr. Guy Loneragan, dean of Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine, has been part of discussions about how Texas Tech could be involved in veterinary medicine since 2014, and he is excited. The state hasn’t seen a new veterinary college built in more than 100 years, when Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in College Station, Texas, was founded in 1916.
Dr. Julie Funk, dean of the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, said Arizona has been working on a second veterinary school for years. The first veterinary program came to the state not too long ago. Midwestern University College of Veterinary Medicine in Glendale, Arizona, a private, nonprofit institution specializing in health care education, received COE accreditation in 2018.
“It has been a long journey for a lot of people,” Dr. Funk said.
In Oro Valley, Arizona
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 veterinary college in Oro Valley, near Tucson, is a year-round, three-year program that will have a distributive model of clinical teaching, placing students at various veterinary practices throughout the Southwest for clinical training.
The Arizona veterinary college welcomed its inaugural class in the fall of 2020, about five months into the pandemic.
Arianna Adams, a rising second-year student, listens to her cat’s lungs.
Dr. Funk said despite the challenges, the veterinary college was not in a unique situation as academic institutions across the United States all faced dilemmas.
“In a startup, there is always uncertainty, and it was just only amplified,” Dr. Funk said. “It was challenging to build community. We have hired people who have hardly ever been on campus. I think last year was more challenging because we are a new college with new employees. But there are some things that being a startup made easier, like we had the luxury of only having one class to manage through pandemic challenges.”
The class size is 110 students, and the veterinary college has a goal of 40 to 50 faculty members and 100 to 120 staff members. The annual average cost of tuition and fees for an Arizona resident is $47,219 and for a nonresident is $72,719.
Get more information about the cost of attendance.
Dr. Funk noted the following are parts of the veterinary college’s mission:
- Team-based learning model or flipped classroom, where students are introduced to content at home and practice working through it at school. This is an evidence-based approach that helps students retain information and work in teams.
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion. The veterinary college is using a holistic admissions process, and Dr. Funk thinks it has been successful in admitting a diverse group of students. It is also part of the curriculum for students to think about their identity and how to communicate across differences.
- Student competency in well-being. Wellness competencies are a part of the curriculum so students can develop skills to carry throughout their careers. The veterinary college also has a wellness center on campus and a wellness director.
Over a third of the 110 members of the Class of 2023, the inaugural class, are first-generation college students, and 46 students are Arizona residents. In the Class of 2024, of the 109 students accepted, 45 students are from in state, and over a third are first-generation college students.
Jasmine Worthy, student government president at the veterinary college, said the environment is very supportive.
“I really decided to go to Arizona after the interview process,” Worthy said. “The way they had their interviews was more about diversity and inclusion, wanting to know about a student as a whole person. It stood out to me. Not a lot of schools go down that route.
“One question specifically was, ‘Who are you from?’ So the people you came from and how it contributed to your path.”
Worthy said the campus is also inclusively built. For example, the student study rooms allow her to bring her 2-year-old child. There are also designated lactation rooms.
In all, the construction budget for the program has totaled approximately $23 million so far. The veterinary program received an initial $8 million state appropriation to develop the college’s physical facilities, and donations have provided about $6 million for support of capital projects. The university has paid for the remaining costs.
Dr. Sallianne Schlacks, a specialist in small animal internal medicine at Arizona’s veterinary college, said there is a lot of science that goes into education and course development, and that she is excited about the flipped-classroom teaching style.
“Instead of having a teacher standing at the front lecturing, information is given to students outside of the class to try to learn as much as they can on their own,” Dr. Schlacks said. “When they come into class, we ask questions and discuss a specific case.”
The anatomy laboratory at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine.
Flipped classrooms are not traditionally used in veterinary medicine, but several medical programs use the teaching style, Dr. Schlacks said.
Dr. Sharon Dial, a veterinary pathologist and a faculty member at the veterinary college, said it is exciting to see students learn hands-on skills from day one.
“Veterinary programs are excellent. We graduate good veterinarians from everywhere, but it seemed to my mind that it (veterinary education) is geared toward veterinarians doing an internship after graduation,” Dr. Dial said. “Our curriculum is very competency based.”
The curriculum creation process used backward design to see what skills the team wanted students to graduate with and then tried to determine how to get there. The curriculum is meant to build on itself, Dr. Dial said.
“When we teach something in these system courses, it is all spiraling,” she said. “What I taught them, they will use again. There is no organ that doesn’t affect the other. It isn’t learning for just one course.”
Arizona will return to fully in person in the fall.
Dr. Funk said the veterinary college is planning to discuss remote working options with employees who have a preference to stay off campus if their work allows for it.
“We have roles in the college that have done well remote, and some employees are more efficient working from home,” Dr. Funk said. “We are evaluating what a hybrid or remote workplace might look like.”
Continued hiring efforts are another aspect the veterinary college is focused on. The pandemic made recruitment difficult, but in recent months, the institution has hired several faculty and staff members.
“It has been a very difficult time, and I think if we can openly and honestly acknowledge that we are coming through a pandemic, then we will emerge healthy and as robust as we can,” Dr. Funk said.
In Amarillo, Texas
Texas Tech University, which is based in Lubbock, Texas, is a public research university that was established in 1923 and is the main institution of the five-institution Texas Tech University System. The university first announced plans on Dec. 4, 2015, for its College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources to develop a veterinary school based at its Health Sciences Center in Amarillo.
Dr. Guy Loneragan said the faculty and staff moved into their new facilities in July. The buildings encompass 260,000 square feet total and house the academic headquarters, teaching areas, student support spaces, and laboratories for the veterinary school. The Mariposa Station, a large animal facility, is located about 2 miles from the Amarillo campus and will include laboratories and large animal courses.
Dr. Guy Loneragan, the founding dean of Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine
The university raised more than $90 million from more than 30 individuals and foundations and the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. for the veterinary school’s infrastructure.
“We are fortunate to design a bespoke curriculum and build world-class facilities that enable our curriculum,” Dr. Loneragan said.
The veterinary school will run a distributive clinical model and has agreements with about 55 veterinary practices in rural and regional communities of Texas for fourth-year placements.
Dr. Loneragan said if you distill the veterinary school’s mission, it’s to serve rural and regional communities with opportunity, access, and affordability.
“We have focused a lot on the first part of the mission, service to rural and regional,” he said. “We also need to be able to deliver on the access and affordability of the program.”
The veterinary school has been able to raise scholarship money to cover about 25% of tuition and fees for every member of the first class.
“Our goal is a long-term, sustainable approach to provide scholarship support that is, on average, 25%,” Dr. Loneragan said.
The annual tuition and fees for Texas residents are $22,000 and $32,800 for nonresidents. The veterinary school requires that all applicants be residents of Texas or New Mexico.
The red dots on the map indicate the communities that Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine’s incoming students call home. (Enlarge)
Get more information about the veterinary school and the cost of attendance.
“Given the student population that we recruited, that is still expensive,” Dr. Loneragan said. “It is a great value for money, but that’s relative. We are working hard to make it more affordable. We don’t want tuition to be a barrier to someone who would be a great veterinarian.”
The incoming class has 64 students. One-third of the students are first-generation college students, over 20% of the student population identifies as Hispanic, and 33% are men. That’s a rarity considering 81.6% of students enrolled in U.S. veterinary colleges in 2020-21 were women.
Sarah Innis, director of admissions and student services for the TTU veterinary school, said a student aligning with the school’s mission was the most important part of the admissions process.
The veterinary school uses a holistic admissions process that balances a students’ academic experience and the mission. The admissions team uses a threshold GPA of 2.9 for potential students.
“If they meet that GPA, then the decision to admit them is based on their life experiences and personal attributes,” Dr. Loneragan said.
Dr. Laszlo Hunyadi, a professor of large animal internal medicine at Texas Tech’s veterinary school, said when he was in private practice, recent graduates who interned with the clinic had the knowledge base but few hands-on skills.
“Students being able to do blood draws in horses was becoming a challenge, and we were spending time with them to teach them those skills and getting them up to speed on basic technical work,” he said.
In building the curriculum, leaders at the veterinary school spent time with practitioners throughout Texas asking questions such as, “What are the characteristics of a veterinarian you’d want to hire?”
Every class is clinically oriented, and the competency-based curriculum focuses on skills for general practitioners, mitigating debt, and communication. One of the ways the veterinary school is working to provide hands-on learning to students is by giving them technology to use.
“First week, first semester, we will provide these ultrasounds (ultrasound machines) for them to use for the next three years—prior to clinic year—so ultrasound will be old hat,” Dr. Loneragan said. “They won’t have a problem doing it because they’ll have done it so many times.”
Audrey Brown, an incoming student in the Class of 2024 at the veterinary school, is from Dayton, Texas. She accepted a position at the school because of its mission, the focus on clinical skills, and the affordability of the program.
“Who doesn’t want to help make history and be a part of the first class?” she said.
Dr. Hunyadi said there may be a misconception that Texas Tech’s veterinary school is strictly large animal, but that’s not true.
“We’re producing veterinarians who will go into rural and underserved areas like equine, food production, and companion animal,” he said. “We are serving all of Texas.”
The TTU veterinary school is also heavily involved in research. New hires have been setting up their laboratories and gaining funding, Dr. Hunyadi said.
Dr. Loneragan said team members plan to refine the admissions process and the curriculum as they go.
“We have already started to assess the first-year process, and we are thinking about the long game of recruitment,” he said. “The first time we deliver the curriculum, there will be rough edges. We have told the students that we will look at them as partners. We will be working hard on solutions to build a better program.”
Correction: A previous version of this story gave the wrong year for a veterinary student at the University of Arizona in a caption.