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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