It may have taken a pandemic to clarify the importance of veterinary medicine.
As more people worked from home or left the workforce as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, there was an explosion in pet adoption. A national survey indicates that among 5,000 households surveyed, nearly 20% acquired a cat or dog since the start of the pandemic, and the vast majority plan to keep them.
The adoptions have led to a growing demand for veterinary care, said Ken White, dean of the Utah State University College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.
Between the growing human population of Utah and those who “have found great consolation in having a pet and a mate, the amount of veterinary work for the state of Utah has just gone through the roof,” he said.
To better meet the demands of care and improve educational opportunities in the state, Utah State University is proposing to move from a partnership with Washington State University to train veterinarians in establishing its own university. veterinary medicine.
The plans call for cohorts of 80 students over time, compared to 30 from the university’s existing association with Washington state, in which students complete two years of basic education at Logan School and complete the last two years in Pullman, Washington. Of the 30 students receiving half of their training at USU, 20 are Utah students.
“Utah ranks 42th out of 50 in the number of veterinarians per capita. So we’re certainly not up to date with the demand for the 20 Utah students we’re graduating right now. So I think there’s a lot of space and I agree that we need additional trained veterinarians, “said White, who is also vice president of USU Extension.
USU President Noelle Cockett, in a presentation to the Utah Board of Higher Education on Friday, said more veterinarians are also needed in research fields.
“For example, we have the Antiviral Research Institute, which is currently working on treatments and vaccines for COVID and other viruses. They use laboratory animals as models for human pathogens, mainly because that’s where many of our origins originate. human pathogens, “he said.
According to the National Institutes of Health, among human pathogens, 61% originate in animals. “This is the case with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, brucellosis, Lyme disease and rabies,” USU documents said.
Cockett said the workforce also needs veterinarians to staff in large pet store and animal rescue clinics and to perform regulatory functions, such as grading meat for the Department of Agriculture. United States, “so there is a huge need right now for additional production of veterinarians with a doctorate in veterinary medicine.”
What is the cost and timing of veterinary school at USU?
The launch of a veterinary university in the state of Utah would take at least two years, according to a proposed timeline presented to the board of higher education. The first cohort would graduate in 2028. Meanwhile, Utah students would continue to participate in the 2 + 2 program with the state of Washington.
Plans predict that the construction of veterinary science and clinical buildings will be completed by 2025, which would cost approximately $ 80 million. Instead of building a veterinary hospital, the clinical training of students would take place at existing medical practices and animal facilities in Utah. The training would be supervised by veterinary professionals, who would be considered USU professors.
Washington State currently receives $ 1.7 million in Utah state funding to cover the difference between state and non-resident tuition for all 20 Utah students. Approximately $ 340,000 of other funding goes to WSU annually as students go through the program.
“A school of DVM grants at the USU would retain this funding and provide an estimated $ 14.6 million to state and local economies,” the university documents said.
Cockett said USU officials estimate that the annual state funding needed for the veterinary school would be about $ 20 million a year, which would be lower than the average for schools in seven other states, including 49 million dollars for Colorado State University in the 2020 funding year.
Under the proposal, the first cohort would likely be 40 students, building up to 80 student cohorts over time, White said.
The university will also begin the accreditation process through the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Veterinarians at risk
White said the USU already has teachers preparing students for the first two years of their education under the 2 + 2 plan, but that it should be expanded as it moves into a four-year program that will eventually will have 320 students annually.
An important support that already exists is mental health and wellness services for current veterinary medicine students.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2018 found that U.S. veterinarians have a higher risk of dying from suicide, a trend that has been going on for more than three decades.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, found that veterinarians were 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide and male veterinarians 2.1 times more likely than the general population. Most of the veterinarians who committed suicide worked on small animal practices and more than a third of veterinarians died from drug poisoning, the study found.
Although the reasons why people take their own lives are complex, the study points to risk factors such as the demands of veterinary practices, educational debt, poor work-life balance and family and work life. access to the euthanasia solution used for animals.
Admission to veterinary school is highly selective and tends to attract many students with “type A” personalities, White said.
“They are used to being the first in their class and now they are one of the 30 students who are all first in class or very close and therefore there is a lot of pressure. We felt that direct access to counseling was an important part of us in maintaining a healthy body of students in our school. No doubt, as we move forward here, we will expand those resources, “White said.
Counselors help students cope with stress and take care of their mental health. Students learn strategies to better cope with stressors and study so that they can manage their workload and emotions “in a healthy and productive way,” White said.
2 + 2 experience
White said USU’s partnership with Washington State, which began in 2012, has been “a great collaboration. I have appreciated WSU’s colleagues. They have been fantastic partners.”
Students who spent the first two years of the program in the state of Utah have done well. Among the 2022 class, of the 21 students on the dean’s list, 10 were from the USU cohort. Seven of the top 10 students were from the Utah program.
“One of the things we didn’t realize was the credit for these graduates, these doctorates in veterinary medicine, it’s actually going to Washington. Utah isn’t getting any credit for these people,” Cockett said.
White said other factors influenced USU’s decision to start its own four-year university. USU prepares 30 students to complete their degrees in Washington state and has no control over the enrollment rates of the students assessed.
“We have experienced an increase in enrollment of more than 25% in the 10 years we have been involved in this school. You know, just, you know, it allows us to chart our own course and make our own decisions, “he said.
Benefits for Utah
If the proposal succeeds, Utah would become the 26th state with a veterinary university, Cockett said.
“I want to point out another point of pride for Utah. We would now have the four major professional doctoral, medical, dental, law and veterinary schools,” he said.
White said he believes the establishment of the veterinary university would stimulate more research collaborations between the USU and the University of Utah.
“Certainly, there is a lot of synergy between the research that is being done in medical schools and the same kind of research that would be done in a four-year veterinary school. All teachers will go after NIH (National Institutes of Health) grants, ”he said.
There will also be study opportunities in the field of biomedical research.
“I think it’s a good omen for the state from an economic standpoint and to be able to attract even more companies in this area because we will have graduates with high demand experience to be able to support these efforts,” White said. .