It may have taken a pandemic to shine a light on the importance of veterinary medicine.
As more people worked from home or left the workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, there was an explosion in pet adoption. A national survey indicates that among 5,000 households surveyed, almost 20% have acquired a cat or dog since the start of the pandemic and the vast majority of them plan to keep them.
Adoptions have led to a growing demand for veterinary care, said Ken White, dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences at Utah State University.
Between Utah’s growing human population and those who “have found great solace in having a pet and a companion, the amount of veterinary work for the state of Utah has just exploded,” he said. -he declares.
To better meet care demands and improve educational opportunities in the state, Utah State University is proposing to move from collaborating with Washington State University to train veterinarians to creating its own college of veterinary medicine.
Plans envision cohorts of 80 students over time, compared to 30 in the university’s existing partnership with Washington State in which students complete two years of foundational studies at the Logan-based school and complete the last two years in Pullman, Washington. Of the 30 students who receive half of their training at USU, 20 are students from Utah.
“Utah is ranked 42nd out of 50 for the number of veterinarians per capita. So we’re certainly not meeting the demand for the 20 students from Utah that we’re getting right now. So I think there’s a lot of room and a lot of agreement that we need more trained veterinarians,” said White, who is also vice president of USU Extension.
USU President Noelle Cockett, in a presentation to the Utah Council on 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 as well as other viruses. They use lab animals as models for human pathogens, mainly because that’s where a lot of our human pathogens come from,” she said.
According to the National Institutes of Health, of human pathogens, 61% come from animals. “This is the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which caused the COVID-19 pandemic, brucellosis, Lyme disease and rabies,” the USU documents say.
Cockett said the workforce also needs veterinarians to staff clinics at big-box pet stores and animal rescues and to perform regulatory functions such as meat grading for the U.S. Department. of Agriculture “so there is a huge need right now for additional production of veterinarians with a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
What is the cost and schedule for veterinary school at USU?
The launch of a veterinary college in the state of Utah would be at least two years away, according to a proposed timeline presented to the board of higher education. The first cohort would graduate in 2028. In the meantime, Utah students would continue to participate in the 2+2 program with Washington State.
Plans call for construction of the veterinary sciences and clinical buildings to be completed by 2025, which would cost around $80 million. Rather than building a veterinary hospital, the students’ clinical training would take place in existing doctor’s offices and pet stores in Utah. Training would be overseen by veterinary medical professionals, who would be considered USU faculty.
Currently, Washington State is receiving $1.7 million in funding from the State of Utah to cover the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition for the 20 Utah students . Approximately $340,000 in other funds are disbursed annually to WSU as students progress through the program.
“A DVM-funding school at USU would retain that funding and contribute approximately $14.6 million to our national and local economies,” the academic documents state.
Cockett said USU officials estimate the annual funding needed for the vet school would be about $20 million per 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 cohorts of 80 students over time, White said.
The university will also begin the accreditation process through the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Veterinarians in danger
White said USU already has faculty preparing students for the first two years of their education under the 2+2 plan, but it is expected to expand as it transitions to a program of four years which will eventually have 320 students per year.
Mental health and wellness services for current veterinary students are important supports already in place.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in 2018 concluded that veterinarians in the United States are at increased risk of death from suicide, a trend that spans more than three decades.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, showed that female vets were 3.5 times more likely and male vets 2.1 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Most vets who died by suicide worked in small animal practices and more than a third of vets died from pharmaceutical poisoning, according to the study.
Although the reasons why people commit suicide are complex, the study highlights risk factors such as the demands of veterinary practices, educational debt, poor work-life balance and access to life support. euthanasia used for animals.
Admission to veterinary schools is highly selective and tends to attract many students with “type A” personalities, White said.
“They used to be top of their class and now they are one of 30 students who are all top of the class or very close so there is a lot of pressure. We felt that direct access to counseling was an important part of our maintaining a healthy student body at our school. Certainly as we move forward here we will increase those resources,” White said.
Counselors help students deal with stress and deal with their mental health. Students learn strategies to better cope with stressors and study so they can manage their workload and emotions “in a healthy and productive way,” White said.
White said USU’s partnership with Washington State, which began in 2012, has been “a great collaboration. I appreciated the WSU colleagues. They have been fantastic partners.
Students who spent their first two years of the program at Utah State did well. Among the Class of 2022, out of 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 that we didn’t realize is that the credit for these graduates, these doctorates in veterinary medicine, actually goes to Washington. Utah gets no credit for these people,” Cockett said.
White said other factors weighed into USU’s decision to establish its own four-year college. USU prepares 30 students who graduate in Washington State and has no control over assessed student tuition.
“We have experienced tuition increases of over 25% in the 10 years we have been involved with this school. You know, it just allows us, you know, to chart our own course and make our own decisions,” he said.
Benefits for Utah
If the proposal goes ahead, Utah would become the 26th state to have a veterinary school, Cockett said.
“I want to highlight another point of pride for Utah. We would now have the four major professional doctoral schools, medicine, dentistry, law and veterinary medicine,” she said.
White said he thinks the establishment of the veterinary college will spur more research collaborations between USU and the University of Utah.
“There’s definitely a lot of synergy between the research that’s done in medical schools and the same kinds of research that would be done in a four-year veterinary school. The professors are all going to seek grants from the NIH (National Institutes of Health),” he said.
There will also be opportunities for studies in the field of biomedical research.
“I think that bodes well for the state from an economic standpoint and for being able to attract even more companies into this area because we will have graduates with expertise that is in high demand to be able to support these efforts,” White said. .