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Monday, January 19, 2015

Veterinary Education in Indiana: From Horses to Hogs to the Human-Animal Bond

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
January 19, 2015

Though Purdue’s first veterinary class graduated just over 50 years ago (in 1963), there had been a long and vibrant history of veterinary education dating back to the 1890s. 

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Indiana was home to the fourth-largest private college in the country, the Indiana Veterinary College. When the college closed in 1924, the AVMA referred to its “honorable existence for over 30 years,”(2) and noted that there remained only eleven veterinary colleges in the country. “Whether these [eleven colleges] will satisfactorily discharge the responsibilities which have fallen upon their shoulders, time only will tell.”

A smaller college in Terre Haute did not operate as long, but is reported to have contained impressive clinical facilities including those for dogs and cats. That was unusual because the major focus sustaining for-profit schools in that era was the medical management of the large numbers of city horses which were the mainstay of urban commerce and personal conveyance before the arrival of the internal combustion engine. With the disappearance of the horse, the impact of WWI and increasing regulatory challenges, the for-profit colleges of that era all closed. 

Meanwhile, some 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis in West Lafayette, Purdue University began instruction as the state’s land grant university in 1874. A vibrant animal and public health research program within the Department of Veterinary Science in the School of Agriculture soon began to develop.  The second department chair was Walter L. Williams who had studied at McGill in Canada under physician William Osler. Williams was a passionate researcher, educator and clinician. Though he stayed only a few years before being recruited to New York by James Law as one of the founding faculty at Cornell, he left an indelible mark on the reputation for quality and rigor in the new department at Purdue.

The department soon developed a program in bacteriology and milk quality under physician/veterinarian, A.W. Bitting; and hog cholera under veterinarian Robert A. Craig, who remained department chair until his death in 1939. Under Craig’s leadership, a hog cholera virus and antiserum facility was established at Purdue that served the entire state and gained national recognition. Research programs were also established in Brucellosis, swine dysentery and other important livestock diseases. During the 1940s, graduate programs at the MS and PhD levels were established, and the teaching of veterinary courses to undergraduate agriculture students expanded.

At the end of WWII, seven veterinary colleges were established at other universities, including at the land grant universities in neighboring Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri; and the Purdue trustees started planning a veterinary college of their own. Established in 1957, the college was first called the School of Veterinary Science and Medicine to recognize its foundation in the former Department of Veterinary Science and its ongoing commitment to research and scholarship. 

The development of the college in the 1960s coincided with several major changes in the veterinary profession. Though still critically important in a state with a strong agricultural economy, livestock and public health were no longer the only priorities.  Companion animal medicine was becoming an important aspect of veterinary education, research and clinical practice, and more faculty were being appropriated to this burgeoning field of study.  Clinical specialties were becoming established to supplement primary care practice, and new techniques including radiation imaging were becoming commonplace as the dogs, cats and other pets moved into households and became part of the family structure.

Purdue also tested innovative curricular initiatives with a goal of allowing students to spend more instructional time in the clinical areas of their choice. Faculty experimented with new educational technologies, including the “Block System” for scheduling courses, and Purdue became known nationally for many of these advances.

In 1982 the Center for the Human-Animal Bond (3) was established, marking the growing recognition of the importance of pets within the family structure, and the critical role that pets and other animals play in the psychological and physiological health of humans. Purdue’s 21st century research involving animal and human health and the biomedical sciences also is impacting such strategic areas as oncology, biosecurity and infectious diseases.

Over a century and a quarter of advancing animal and human health, Indiana educational programs have covered the spectrum from the private, for profit urban colleges of the late 19th century, to the land grant’s veterinary science department model of the first half of the 20th century, to the comprehensive veterinary medical college of the last 60 years. 

In some respects, it’s a microcosm of the entire history of veterinary medicine in the United States.

By Dr. Donald F. Smith,

1. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 1924; 66(4): 401-403
2. Stockton, Jack J (editor). A Century of Service. Veterinary Medicine in Indiana 1884-1984. (Indiana Veterinary Medical Association 1984) p 126-9
3. Originally called the Center for Applied Ethology and Human-Animal Bond