Educators, licensing boards gear up for debate about veterinary education

Defining societal needs key to address long-term future, experts say
Feb 01, 2010

NATIONAL REPORT — In the past year, educational funding has been hard-hit by the recession and philanthropic giving at schools is not growing enough to meet funding cuts from other sources. Many veterinary colleges have struggled with how they will keep educating students for a changing profession without cutting programs and adding to the already astronomical debt of the veterinary student. These challenges have made the time ripe for change, according to some board members of the new North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC).

"The situation we are in is why I anticipate we will have some success," says Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, NAVMEC's project manager. "At this point, there are no more options. There have to be some alterations."

The veterinary deans who spoke with DVM Newsmagazine couldn't agree more.

"We're all feeling a huge financial squeeze in a sense. We're going to have to consolidate the way we're doing business and share more in our active pursuit of trying to meet the goals of veterinary medicine for society," says Dr. Bennie Osburn, dean of University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

"The really good thing is with having the accrediting representatives and the licensing boards along with the educators," Osburn says. "I feel this is a major opportunity for us to come together and have a common means of evaluating our students and giving guidance for the veterinary colleges through recommendations to meet the outcomes needed for the betterment of the profession."

Veterinary education is already so expensive, there isn't much room for cuts in any programs when funding starts to shrink, Leininger adds. Changes have been needed for some time, and educators have long discussed the need for a transformation of the way veterinarians are educating in the United States, she explains. But fears of jeopardizing accreditation status and licensing of new graduates have kept these discussions from yielding any real changes. Now, the need for change is so great, it has forced all three groups of stakeholders — educators, licensing and accreditation — to come together to find a solution, Leininger says.

"If we come up with new educational models, how will that impact taking board exams and getting licensed?" Leininger asks. "What are the changes that are going to happen in veterinary medicine, and what will those changes do to what veterinarians have to supply? What other competencies will veterinarians need to have to fulfill the needs of society?"

Since there is no crystal ball to show stakeholders what the future of veterinary medicine holds, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Eleanor Green says it's critical that the board identify where veterinary medicine is heading.

"Society is changing, and we need to change with it. There's been a lot of talk, but this is the single most comprehensive effort to produce the workforce of the next generation of veterinarians," she says. "I think we need to spend some time defining what is meant by our society's needs ... and talk about competencies and skills that will be required by graduating veterinarians to meet those needs."

These issues will highlight the agenda for the first three forums on the future of veterinary education. The first session is slated for Feb. 11 to 13 in Las Vegas, followed by a meeting from April 29 to May 1 in Kansas City on educational models and the final from July 14 to 16 in Las Vegas on synthesis and implications for accreditation and licensure.

Dr. Willie Reed, dean of Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine, adds that lasting change can only occur when the stakeholders agree on the terms.

"As deans, we can't modify or change curriculum too much without jeopardizing accreditation or licensing of students," he says. "One really can't change without the other two. That's what's exciting to me. For the first time, we have representatives from all three areas coming together to look at the future."

Topics up for discussion include the affordability of veterinary education, declining caseloads in teaching hospitals and dwindling numbers of veterinarians in academia, Leininger says.

"What we're looking at is: What does that graduate look like?" she says. "We want to make sure that as they walk across the stage at graduation, they're the best for the broad needs the profession is trying to meet."

To learn more about NAVMEC or get details about its upcoming national meetings, visit