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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Arizona's Proposed College of Veterinary Medicine

Posted March 10, 2012
By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

Will Arizona become the 27th state to have a veterinary college? YES, according to Midwestern University's president and CEO Kathleen Goeppinger who announced this week that its Glendale campus near Phoenix has allocated $90m for a teaching facility and hospital complex and anticipates accepting its first class of 100 veterinary students in just two years.

Conventional wisdom of most practicing veterinarians in the country, especially considering the business impact associated with the downturn in the economy and the 25% growth in the number of veterinary graduates in the last decade, is that we now have an oversupply of new veterinarians entering clinical practice each year.

However, the number of Arizona residents who currently graduate each year from U.S. veterinary colleges is only about 6.5 per million population. This is in the lowest quartile of all states, and only slightly higher than neighboring New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. Similarly, the number of veterinarians per capita practicing in Arizona (also Utah and Nevada) is much less than the national average.

When it comes to the vast rural areas in Arizona, the need for veterinarians is especially acute for both livestock and companion animals. That is the theme that resonates with the administration of Midwestern University as they propose to establish a college that will accept more students from rural areas with the hope that they will eventually fill part of that critical need in the State.

Representatives of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association and the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association  (AzVMA) I spoke to yesterday see the logic but also the challenges of this strategy. They acknowledge that most veterinary graduates regardless of origin, end up in small animal practice where compensation is greater and you don't have to "drive 80 miles one way to see a sick or injured horse".  The AzVMA has not taken an official position, but will continue to be involved in the conversations with Midwestern as plans for the school take shape.

Unmet needs outside of Practice:
There is another great unmet need for veterinarians across the entire U.S., and that is in public and corporate practice. Perhaps a new veterinary college in the southwest that is developed in association with other health colleges (as at Midwestern University) can help both regionally and nationally.
Vice Admiral Richard Carmona, USPHS
Surgeon General of the United States 2002-06

This priority is recognized by a prominent U.S. physician, Rich Carmona, the former surgeon general who is running for U.S. senate for the state of Arizona. Carmona has not to my knowledge given an opinion on this nascent veterinary college.

However, when speaking with him earlier this week, he shared with me his abiding respect for veterinarians in both the public and private sphere.

"During my tenure as United States Surgeon General [2002-06], it became very apparent that veterinarians were essential elements not only to the nation's health, but also to national and global preparedness activities, and as leaders of our multidisciplinary teams.

Veterinarians were some of the most sought-after professionals by all branches of the Federal Government. Whether from traditional veterinary practice to research and development, zoonoses, emerging infectious and global health, we were always in short supply of veterinarians."

Debating the merits of establishing new veterinary colleges will continue. However, we as veterinarians must find better ways to meet the needs of underserved areas in the country as well as expand into those fields in the public and corporate sectors where our educational background in comparative medicine and our talents in working in health care teams meet critical regional and national needs.

Dr. Smith invites comments at