Colleges launch global veterinary programs

Sep 01, 2001
By dvm360.com staff

As fall classes begin this month for thousands of U.S. veterinary medical students, eight entering freshmen will start their semesters mixing Mexican cuisine with a week's worth of leadership training on the international veterinary circuit.

At presstime, seven veterinary medical students enrolled at Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine (Texas A&M) and one from the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine (UG) embarked on a journey to learn what makes leaders in veterinary medicine.

The trip is a first step for participants of the Global Veterinary Leadership Program (GVLP)-a newly created certificate program designed to prepare students for a career in the worldwide veterinary industry and to educate them on infectious diseases of international importance.

Program in the making

In the works for nearly two years, the GVLP is the first of its kind, designed to start select students on four- or five-year programs to equip them for roles as public health protectors and for success in the international veterinary market, project coordinator Dr. Gale Wagner says.

"We are trying to create veterinary leaders who understand the global technological market," Wagner says. "Free trade in food animals and products have increased the movement of diseases like foot and mouth, either intentionally or accidentally, and veterinarians are the first to intercept those cases."

GVLP students explore foreign animal diseases, emerging disease, risk assessment, and leadership roles. After completing the week-long program in Mexico and a year of veterinary school, students plan coursework to complete 12 to 18 hours of electives in foreign language and study, combining some of those elective hours with veterinary medical classes in their fourth year.

Fourth-year elective courses can come in the form of a four- to 12-week externship with international firms such as multinational food industries or commodity groups in South America. Participants are expected to work full time on projects that expose them to the international career environment. Upon graduation, participants will receive an international certificate in foreign study along with a diploma.

If students do not choose an externship, they must spend nine to 12 months at an internship with an international company, most likely in the pharmaceutical industry, upon receiving a DVM degree. The internship combined with on-campus elective hours provides students with a master's degree.

Branching out at UG

While Wagner is rooted at Texas A&M in the veterinary college's pathobiology department, he says the GVLP has no home base. Any student entering a U.S. accredited college of veterinary medicine can apply to join the program.

"What we'll have is a virtual network," he says. "The goal is to take 15 to 18 students a year with the intention of working with some international company. This is aimed at corporate veterinary medicine, and it is probably going to be organized as a virtual center of excellence."

UG already is on board and in February, launched its own version of the GVLP.

According to UG officials, the college's program began in response to the university's emphasis on the need to globalize education. It's also a way to internationalize the profession, says Dr. Corrie Brown, UG professor and project coordinator.

"Foot-and-mouth disease has marched through the world and into veterinary education," she says. "Students in the U.S. are graduating but don't have adequate exposure to veterinary diseases. It's a growth area in veterinary medicine, and if we ignore it, we could be in trouble."

In March, UG sent groups of students to study in Chile and southern Brazil. This month, a group will travel to Argentina, Brown says.

Program requirements are similar to the GVLP and consist of a course in international veterinary medicine; work in a foreign country; proficiency in a foreign language; and completing elective credit hours in related work.

"We started our program first, but they're almost identical on purpose," Wagner says. "The difference is we have leadership training and UG doesn't, but we're working toward a co-curriculum."

Financial support

The colleges also are working toward co-support. Last year, the combined programs received more than $500,000 in federal grants to finance student trips.

This year, college officials hope to receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education. "A few outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) may have helped the funding climate," Brown says.

Wagner is working on industry sponsorship. At least $1million is needed to cradle the GLVP program for the next five years, he says. The funds cover all student costs, excluding the charge for courses.

"I'm working with companies to develop contacts and the corporate support we need," he says. "A million dollars would be sufficient and give us a five-year window for 18 students a year to go just about anywhere in the world."

For more information on these programs, log on to www.vet.uga.edu/vpp/nsep.