Veterinary education needs to change

Decades ago, foresighted studies and reports told us this day would come.

Veterinary education needs to change.

State funding is falling in the recession—perhaps to rise again, but enough?

Student-loan loads are suffocating graduates.

And, most worrying, students are complaining that medicine has advanced so far in so many directions that they spend their time in school cramming for tests and forgetting so they can move on to the next one. One participant called it "academic bulimia" in the human-medicine world.

That doctor was one of a more than two dozen speakers at a meeting of more than 160 professors, deans, and representatives of licensing and accreditation organizations for the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (gasp … OK, now we can just call it NAVMEC).

Forward-thinking speakers force-fed the large audience with details on present veterinary education models (VEMs), new experiments, and future ideas. They were by turns enlightening, hopeful, innovative, and even darkly humorous.

Dr. Bonnie Rush, a professor at Kansas State University's veterinary college, helped organize a big change in the school's curriculum and said neither the new group of students nor an old group who missed out on the new program seemed altogether happy. The older who didn't participate felt "cheated," and the new experimental group felt like "guinea pigs," she says.

No matter what comes down the pipeline, it'll be controversial, complicated, and contentious.

Every one of these schools in attendance, with nine offering presentations on their unique approach to veterinary studies, had different ideas about what constituted proper education. Is it a veterinary teaching hospital, or "distributed" students in clinics? Is it detailed cross-species medical knowledge, or later-year tracks to funnel students onto their chosen career paths? And as students complain more and more that they can't afford tuition, where will schools and future veterinarians find the money to fund this crucial work?

Maybe the best approach is NAVMEC leader Dr. Mary Beth Leininger's approach: Get the thought leaders in the room and let them come up with solutions.

But this isn't just medical colleges' problem. The same human-medicine educator who complained of human-medicine doctors' "academic bulimia" in school also hailed medical education as "a public good." A nation interested in human well-being must attract and retain underpaid general practitioners and public-health veterinarians, both of them vital to disease prevention, control, and information.

America, put your money where your mouth is: coughing on each other, petting cats and dogs, and eating meat.

If we run out of doctors and veterinarians to fill crucial roles in the web of human health, animal health, and shared concerns, we'll all suffer. And, of course, it all starts where every doctor and veterinarian starts: in school.

Good luck, NAVMEC. We're pulling for you.


  • I was fortuante to come out of veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania with what I felt to be a great education and a start on the right path to "real life" learning with a private practice internship at Friendship Hospital for Animals.

    The majority if veterinary material that my brain is able to retain comes from my clinical rotations and experiences post-graduation.

    As I am not a good classroom learner, I wish that veterinary education focused more on experiential learning instead of memorizing material for a test, then purging the material in order to make room for more for the next test.

    Will things ever change for veterinary or human medical students?  I hope so, for the sake of higher education.

    Dr Patrick Mahaney

    California Pet Acupuncture & Wellness (CPAW), Inc

    PatrickMahaney, 3 years ago | Flag
  • Hi Brendan, you actually saved me a writing a whole blog!  The veterinary education system as we know it IS broken and unsustainable, IMHO.  See my blog "Supply and Demand" from 2 years ago:

    Veterinary students are MORE than maxed out tuition-wise, governmental and private funding have declined during the recession... Something's gotta give and I see a crisis looming if it isn't fixed and soon.

    I thnk very few people would recognize the value of veterinarians to the security of this nation until, like you said, their food supply is cut off or worse, becomes tainted and dangerous. Maybe when you look at it from that aspect, like you said, veterinary education will end up being recognized as "Too Big to Fail."  Maybe.

    Heather, 4 years ago | Flag

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