ATHENS, GA.— The critical issues facing veterinary education are endemic but not insurmountable, says Dr. Sheila Allen, who, was named to the permanent dean position of the University of Georgia's (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine in early November.
Dwindling state funds, holding the line on tuition increases and competing in a thriving specialist market that is slowly luring faculty away are all issues in need of triage. And the trends simply add more competitive pressure to remain state-of-the-art, foster research, grow knowledge, attract a cadre of qualified students, turn-up the incubators on the next generation of doctors and still hunt down the money to pay for it all. The challenges aren't isolated to UGA's $50.3 million program; it's the reality of higher education this century.
And if you ask Allen, her legacy as dean is already in draft form. You simply need to inquire about her long-term goals.
In an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine, Allen shared her vision for the college and talked about her life experiences as mother and oncologist/surgeon that ultimately cemented her role as the second female veterinary dean in the United States.
Of quality and quantity
The vision looks something like this:
In short, the oncologist/surgeon eyes growth in the college's programs and reputation. If planned correctly, the money will follow to sustain program expansion.
"You need to have long-term goals that you are shooting for or you are simply maintaining the status quo," Allen says.
On the agenda:
- Build a new state-of-the art teaching hospital. Plans are in the works through the guidance of husband Dr. Douglas Allen Jr., who heads UGA's $7.9 million teaching hospital. UGA's Board of Regents recently added the college to its list of capital expenditure projects earmarked to move forward. The new teaching hospital likely will take a couple of years to fund. Allen is looking to tap state money from both Georgia and South Carolina. The Peach State ranks fourth in population growth; South Carolina isn't far behind. "As you are aware, we need more veterinarians in public health, food safety and ecosystem health," she says.
This new infrastructure will help the college expand enrollment and help fill underserved needs in Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia and Delaware. Long term: "I would like our enrollment to expand by about 50 percent, frankly, by the time I would finish and have the faculty and staff commensurate with that enrollment increase," Allen says. The school boasts of 378 DVM candidates with 116 faculty on its roster.
- Improve specialist salaries to "at least diminish the gap between the private sector and the academic sector." With 24 years of UGA experience, Allen dubs the recruitment and retention of qualified specialists as a "huge challenge faced by all of academia". UGA has five veterinary specialist openings that have gone unfilled for the last year. While other veterinary schools are in tougher straits, the most fought-after areas remain in small animal surgery, ophthalmology, radiology and oncology. "Those specialties have an excellent job market right now, and we are competing with each other (veterinary colleges) and the private sector to recruit the best and brightest. We don't have the kind of turnover some of the schools are faced with because this is a nice place to live and a nice environment. However, if we have a faculty member retire, it is getting more and more difficult to replace him or her with a specialist."
- Finish an animal health research center to allow the university to perform infectious disease investigations. The facility is slated to open next summer.
- Tap into the UGA's College of Public Health to build out a combined DVM/MPH program. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there's a need, Allen adds. She's looking for 10 students to graduate from the program each year and enter careers "sorely needed in veterinary medicine".
- Identify students interested in biomedical research, offer a DVM/PhD program and fund it through an endowment.
- Minorities are also under-represented at the university with a 9-percent pool of students. Recruitment programs are on the drafting boards to reach out to children earlier about the opportunities in veterinary medicine.