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UI clinic opens shop in Chicago

Supporters express high hopes for satellite clinic


September 22, 2009
By: Timothy Kirn
For The VIN News Service


The University of Illinois (UI) is opening a clinic in a part of inner city Chicago that has never had a veterinary practice.

The facility will hold clinics of a highly specialized nature, like most university teaching hospitals. But it also has a primary-care clinic, cleverly called Furnetic, which is the main focus of the new venture.

Like most veterinary colleges, particularly those located in more rural areas, UI has struggled with how to get its students exposed to general small-animal, primary-care practice, says Rosemary J. LoGiudice, DVM, the clinic’s director. Teaching hospitals mostly get referral cases, and so students tend to see the extreme rather than the routine, during training.

This was a real problem at the UI, LoGiudice says. The school heard a number of times from employers that its graduates, who trained in Urbana, were competent but somewhat at sea with the day-to-day of a small-animal practice.

“It’s like that old saying: You have to see normal before you can decide what is abnormal,” she says.

So the Chicago clinic gives the school’s students a place to do rotations and get experience with the routine medicine they are most likely going to be practicing when they graduate. They can experience examining healthy pets and practicing preventive care, LoGiudice says.

It is a bonus that Chicago's population is so large, which means the clinic likely will be busy and the clients varied, she adds.

The area where the clinic is located was chosen, in part, because there were no local veterinarians in the neighborhood who might be upset by the intrusion of competition. The location may be an asset, or it may be a serious problem.

The area, directly west of downtown Chicago, is a veritable medical district. There are two medical campuses, the University of Illinois Medical Center and the Rush University Medical Center. Next to those is the immense John H. Stronger Jr. Hospital.

The clinic's building — more than 6,000 square feet and state-of-the-art — is owned by UI at Chicago.

LoGiudice says the area provides some synergy, and that was another reason the location was chosen. The clinic can expect some reflected prestige from its association with the teaching hospitals and, perhaps, get involved with research going on there.

But others suggest that the proximity to human medical centers may be confusing and might not sit well with the human patients, especially.

At least one other area veterinarian considers the location less than ideal for another reason.

Neighborhoods around the area are somewhat distressed, notes Michele Gaspar, DVM, a VIN consultant and feline practitioner who has toured the facility. While the building is new and sparkling, with digital radiography, a full dental suite and canine rehabilitation, the locale may not have enough residents who can afford to pay for veterinary care there, she says.

“There is always a reason there is no veterinarian in a neighborhood,” Gaspar says.

LoGiudice reports that the clinic is already gaining a client base and notes that the area has been undergoing some revitalization.

The clinic has made an effort to accommodate those who work in the medical centers by allowing them to drop pets off for the day. And officials have embarked on an advertising campaign designed to attract new clients from downtown Chicago, distributing pet waste disposal bags with colorful messages, such as “Ask us anything, we know our poop.”

Furnetic, too, is going to offer specialty services, starting with oncology, staffed with faculty from Urbana who will drive up once a week, and that will bring in clients who may return for the routine care or who will spread the word about the facility.

LoGiudice is optimistic about the clinic’s viability and about what it can accomplish for the UI, which touts the primary-care satellite clinic as the first of its kind in the nation. The clinic is going to increase the veterinary school’s visibility because it is in a big city, LoGiudice says. It might help with faculty recruitment, and it should help with minority student recruitment, she adds.

The clinic also may increase the pool of potential subjects for veterinary clinical trials.

David A. Gonsky, DVM, of West Loop Veterinary Care, is one of two veterinarians who practices within a two-mile radius of the Furnetic clinic, although his practice is much closer to downtown, nestled amid expensive, high-rise apartment buildings. He says he does not feel threatened by the opening of the clinic. In fact, he supports the venture.

“I am very excited,” he says. “I think the new clinic is a great opportunity for my alma mater to get exposed to the Chicago market and get more recognition. And I am hoping they are going to bring in some specialists that our clients can use, rather than traveling the distances they are currently traveling (down to Urbana).”



VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email news@vin.com.



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