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Monday, January 21, 2013

Frederick Douglass Patterson and Tuskegee's School of Veterinary Medicine

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted on January 21, 2013, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

African-American veterinarians have played a special role in animal care and public health since the early days of the profession. The most notable of the approximately 70 African-Americans who received their DVM degrees during the first half of the 20th century is Frederick Douglass Patterson. Orphaned shortly after his birth in 1901 and raised by his sister in Texas, Patterson received his veterinary degree at Iowa State University and later his PhD from Cornell. He became the third president of Tuskegee Institute in 1935 as the south was moving from cotton plantation agriculture to raising livestock.

Overcoming enormous challenges, Patterson developed a veterinary college for African-Americans at a time when higher education in the South was segregated and there were only 12 other veterinary colleges in the country.

To people outside of the veterinary profession, Patterson’s most memorable achievement was organizing fellow Historic Black College presidents to form the United Negro College Fund in 1946. He was also instrumental in establishing the Tuskegee Airman program during his tenure as university president.

Dr. Eugene W. Adams,
Author of "The Legacy"
A History of The Tuskegee University
School of Veterinary Medicine
(Photo by the author, 2012)
Published on the 50th anniversary of veterinary medicine at Tuskegee, Dr. Eugene Adams' definitive historical book, "The Legacy"  describes Patterson's contributions to Tuskegee and to African-American education in general. 

Dr. Adams received his DVM from Kansas State University and his PhD from Cornell. A distinguished pathologist, Adams served on the Tuskegee faculty for almost four decades.

Concern for public health has always been a feature of Tuskegee’s veterinary program, and many of their graduates have had careers in food safety and research. The college is now even closely aligned with human health because of its unique organizational structure that combines Veterinary Medicine as well as Nursing and Allied Health in the same college. Veterinarian Tsegaye Habtemariam, who jointly administers all of these programs, feels that the unified governance facilitates opportunities for advancing the ‘one health’ agenda by which veterinarians can have a stronger role in promoting the health of people as well as animals.

Two current deans of veterinary medicine in the United States are graduates of Tuskegee: Willy Reed (Purdue University) and Phillip Nelson (Western University of the Health Sciences). Along with another alumnus, Michael Blackwell (dean emeritus of the University of Tennessee) and Tuskegee’s current dean, Dr. Habtemarian, these distinguished educators serve as great role models for young African-Americans who aspire to leadership positions in the health professions. 

Sign at the entrance to Moton Field, named after Tuskegee's
second president and made famous by the
Tuskegee Airmen who trained there during World War II.
(Photo by the author, 2012)
Visitors to Tuskegee's campus are deeply moved by symbols of the African-American educational tradition. An inspiring sculpture of founder Booker T. Washington sits beside the campus chapel and is inscribed by the words, "He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry." A few miles from campus is the airfield used by the Tuskegee Airman and made famous by the 2012 movie “Red Tails” and the current off-Broadway play, “Black Angels over Tuskegee".  

For current and future veterinarians of all backgrounds, one cannot consider Tuskegee University or her veterinary graduates without acknowledging the extraordinary legacy of Frederick Douglass Patterson, DVM, PhD, one of the most important veterinarians of the 20th century.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Friday, January 18, 2013

Arizona's New College of Veterinary Medicine

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 18, 2013

With the appointment last week of a dean of veterinary medicine for Midwestern University, Arizona is moving forward with plans to open the 29th veterinary college in the United States in fall 2014. They have already received a State of Arizona License and are scheduled for a site team by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association starting January 20, 2013.

Dr. Brian Sidaway is the
dean of veterinary medicine
at Midwestern University
in Glendale, Arizon
(Photo by Midwestern University)

Midwestern University, a not for profit health sciences university in Glendale, Arizona is home to colleges of osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, optometry, dental health and a large number of master and doctorate programs in its health science college.  When I asked President and CEO Kathleen H. Goeppinger, Ph.D. last year why she would contemplate starting a college of veterinary medicine, she gave one of the most compelling rationales I have ever heard by a senior university administrator.  “Quite simply,” she said, “animals contribute to human health and I felt having a health sciences campus without veterinary medicine would be incomplete.”  Apart from the important role that animals play in supporting human health and well-being, she also pointed to the need to educate more veterinarians to serve in rural areas of Arizona.

At the national level, many practicing veterinarians feel that the 25% growth in the number of veterinary graduates in the last decade has created an oversupply of new veterinarians entering clinical practice. However, Arizona is the second most populous state without a veterinary college (1) and the number of Arizona residents who are accepted each year into U.S. veterinary colleges is among the lowest in the country. Similarly, the number of veterinarians per capita practicing in Arizona 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 horses, but also for companion animals. Midwestern proposes to accept more students from rural areas with the hope that they will fill that critical need.

Another great unmet need for veterinarians across the entire U.S. is in public and corporate practice. This priority is recognized by former surgeon general Rich Carmona, MD, who lives in Tucson, AZ. Dr. Carmona is a strong supporter of the critical role of veterinarians in public health and he shared the following with me in March last year when the first announcement of Midwestern’s plans were made public.

"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."

Midwestern will be just the fourth veterinary college in the U.S. to be established on a non land-grant campus. Though it will fulfill the need to educate students in species of agricultural interest, its urban location (2) and its educational priorities will also reflect the reality that the overwhelming majority of practicing veterinarians are needed in companion animal practice. These veterinarians not only serve the health needs of the family pet, but also promote the concept of one health for all species because of the positive impact pets have for human health and well-being.

1)  Arizona's population is 6.6 million (2012 estimate). New Jersey, the most populous state without a veterinary college, has 8.9 million people.
2)  Midwestern is located in a metropolitan area of over four million people, one of only four veterinary colleges in the country located in the top 15 metropolitan areas in the U.S. Like Midwestern, each of the other three colleges is located on a campus with other health science colleges (University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University and Western University of the Health Sciences).