Total Pageviews

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Western's College of Veterinary Medicine: An Interview with Two Faculty

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted July 31, 2012

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

Drs. Ana Alcaraz and and Jose (Txema) Peralta left Cornell University in 2007 to join the faculty of the recently-established 28th veterinary college in the United States. Western University of the Health Sciences had admitted its first class of students four years earlier and the wife-husband Alcaraz-Peralta team have now witnessed five classes of graduates complete their DVM degree requirements.

Drs. Ana Alcaraz and Jose Peralta are faculty at 
Western University of the Health Sciences in Pomona, CA
Photo by the author
‘Western’, as it often called, was established in 1998 as the first veterinary college to open in the U.S. since the early 1980s. Located in Pomona, California, it is one of four veterinary colleges not affiliated with a land-grant university. When Western was accredited fully by the AVMA in 2008, it ushered in a new era of how veterinary colleges can meet national standards for clinical education. That is because Western adopted a model that uses private clinical practices to a significant extent instead of maintaining its own comprehensive veterinary teaching hospital.

Ana and Txema visited Cornell recently, and I asked them to characterize the college’s reputation as they start their tenth year of teaching this fall. “Graduates are our best ambassadors,” Dr. Peralta replied without hesitation, citing their broad distribution in practices throughout the country and their success in attaining competitive internship and residency programs. He gave the example of Dr. Vanessa Rizzo who graduated in 2010, and is now a second-year oncology residency here at Cornell. 

“One of the advantages that our students experience is that they receive much of their clinical education in private practices where they see a broad cross section of routine and primary care cases similar to what they eventually experience in their own practices. This is different than university-based teaching hospitals that rely more heavily on specialty cases. While complex referral cases provide good instruction for residents, the hospital accessions are sometimes less appropriate for third- and fourth-year veterinary students who need to first master more basic material.”

“This allows students to gain a realistic picture of what follows in their careers,” added Dr. Alcaraz, “and the students are more often able to interact directly with the supervising veterinarian because many of the practices do not have the tiered resident-intern-student structure that is the norm in large academic hospitals. Also, these practices do not usually have as many students rotating through a service at a time as in a university setting.”

The distributed nature of the third-year curriculum allows students to spend up to 40 weeks not just in traditional clinical practice, but also in a variety of non practice settings, such as laboratory medicine, wildlife or zoological medicine, and public health centers and facilities. Ana believes this gives students exposure to a more expansive array of career choices in veterinary medicine.

Txema also noted that because the college is private and does not rely on public funding, they have been spared some of the economic challenges of institutions that rely on substantial levels of state support. “Everybody has financial challenges these days, but as long as we have a competitive curriculum, Western will continue to flourish. As I said earlier, our graduates are our best ambassadors and prospective veterinary students often choose to apply here through word of mouth.”

I shall present the introductory lecture on the history of veterinary education at the AVMA meeting in San Diego this weekend. During these remarks I shall pay tribute to Western for having created a new paradigm in the dynamic world of veterinary education. 

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Veterinarians working with Physicians

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted July 15, 2012

         A 200-page report on the Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine was recently released. Five years in the making, the authors (mostly veterinarians and several of whom I know well) assessed the current and anticipated needs of veterinarians. They paid special attention to agricultural animals, global food security, industry, public service and biomedical research.  However, the role of practicing veterinarians in promoting the role of pets to enhance human health and well-being within the family was not given a high priority compared to other critical-need areas.
         I recently authored the following op-ed on the question, "What can physicians learn from veterinarians?" It presents a more expansive view of how veterinary medicine can enhance human health by considering our pets an integral part of a healthy family structure.  

Reprinted from Zocalo Public Square, June 17, 2012
How to work together
         "When my daughter was a first-year Yale medical student in 2006, I told her that family medicine practices would someday offer services for both people and puppies. They would enter the same door and be seen by the appropriate member(s) of a team of healthcare professionals that included physicians, veterinarians, clinical psychologists, and veterinary behaviorists for annual checkups; nutrition, exercise, and disorder counseling; noninvasive imaging; and family planning.
         "There was a time when physicians and veterinarians worked together, and when Harvard and New York University’s medical and veterinary students learned side-by-side. But the replacement of the horse by the automobile led to the closure of almost all of the large urban veterinary colleges by the mid 1920s, and the medical disciplines drifted apart. However, the modern resurgence of comparative medicine has given the once-accepted concept of one medicine, one health new hope as more physicians recognize what they have in common with veterinarians.
         "As a veterinarian, I dream of a day when cancer wards of hospitals, assisted living homes for the aged, and hospice centers for the dying welcome pets to provide comfort, reduce pain and suffering, relieve anxiety, and smooth the transition from machine-living to compassionate-passing. I dream of a day when we consider substituting pets for prescriptions, and when we can modulate high blood pressure and cholesterol levels by more dog-walking and less pill-popping.
         "I long for the day when the NIH funds research that examines the positive role that pets can have on children with mental disorders, on returning veterans with PTSD, and on prisoners as they return to society.
         "I am ever hopeful for the day when physicians partner with veterinarians—with their education in comparative medicine and their sensitivity to the human-animal bond—to advance human health and reduce the cost of healthcare."

Dr. Smith invites comments at      

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Minimizing a Dog's Reliance on Anti-Stress Medication

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted July 8, 2012

         My wife and I recently met Jodie Yim, an MBA graduate on the Island of O'ahu who turned her dog's health challenges into a thriving and personally-rewarding business. She explains on her website that she was several years on the road to a corporate career in advertising and marketing when God led her down a different pathway and she became a handmade paper artist. 
         A short while later, a Black Labrador Retriever puppy "with anxiety and noise phobias" joined her, and her life changed again. Not wanting to use anti-stress drugs, she learned enough about semi-precious gemstones to make her first piece of jewelry, a 'calming collar' for Pono. 
         As her skills with creating jewelry expanded, she was able to work from her home with Pono, often with him literally at her feet. With the exception of an "occasional dose of Rescue Remedy® and wearing a Thundershirt® during especially stressful times," Pono is entirely free of medications. The name of Jodie's company, 'Ponoma' [Pono-Ma] reflects her special relationship with her dog.

Jodie Yim and Pono wearing a colorful  Christmas lei

 Pono's original "calming collar"
Photos providing by Jodie Yim
Jodie's experience reminds us not just of the pleasure and comfort we can derive from healthy relationships with our pets, but she also exemplifies what it means to be a responsible pet owner. In her case, that responsibility included finding creative ways to spare Pono the use of behavior-modifying drugs.  

If you liked this blog, you may also enjoy the posting of April 14, 2011, entitled:
A Letter to Sasha and Malia Obama on the Second Anniversary of Bo's Arrival

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Veterinarians in New York State

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted July 3, 2012

         When animal owners seek veterinary care in New York State, their dog, cat, horse or herd of cattle could be treated by a graduate of any number of colleges across the U.S. or throughout the world. Though Cornell has over 3,100 alumni dispersed around the country, fewer than 1,300 are here in New York. Graduates from other colleges in the region, especially Penn, Tufts, Michigan State and the Ohio State, add another 530.
         The largest change in the profile of New York's veterinarians in the last decade, however, has been in the substantial growth in graduates of foreign colleges, in particular, Ross and St. George's universities in the Caribbean, and the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada. These are relatively new schools and many of their American graduates practice in the northeast.  
         The following graph shows how the addition of graduates from a greater number of colleges is changing the profile of veterinarians in New York. When you consider N.Y. veterinarians of all ages, 35% are Cornell graduates. However, Cornell alumni make up only 22% when we look at the younger veterinarians, specifically, those who graduated in the ten-year period between 1997 and 2006. (I have not included data from the most recent six years because there is a more year-to-year movement in the first few years after graduation that is often associated with internship and residency positions.)
         The spectrum of institutions represented among the state's veterinarians also means that a New York student wanting to become a veterinarian can find graduates from a variety of schools to provide information on the institution they might be considering. 

Colleges from which Veterinarians in New York State received their DVM degrees
 in the 10-year period between 1997 and 2006.
(AVMA membership record, 2012) 

         New York has 3,630 veterinarians registered as members of the national veterinary association (AVMA). That is about one veterinarian for every 6,000 people in the state. Looking at the numbers from a national perspective, there appears to be an inverse proportion of  veterinarians to population density. For example, states like Iowa, Colorado and Wyoming, have one veterinarian for every 2,300 people, over twice that of New York, New Jersey or California.

Number of Veterinarians per 1,000 Population for the Twelve Largest States
(AVMA membership records, 2012)

         The preceding graph shows that New York ranks near the bottom in number of veterinarians per 1,000 people for the twelve most populous states. However, unlike a few years ago before the economic slowdown, many New York veterinarians will tell you that there not a shortage of DVMs in the state.

Note: All veterinary data in this blog are from the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

If you liked this blog, you might also like to read a blog posted on May 29, 2012, entitled "Employment Opportunities for Veterinarians"  

Dr. Smith invites comments at