St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine earned U.S. accreditation last weekend, making it the 12th foreign institution to receive the distinction and the second accredited veterinary program located in the Caribbean.
Founded in 1999, St. George’s School of Veterinary Medicine sits on the island of Grenada. Neighboring Ross University on St. Kitts received accreditation for its veterinary college in March.
Officials with St. George’s announced the news Monday evening to a crowd of roaring students. The message from Provost Allen Pensick: “We have an AVMA-approved institution. It’s a great day for St. George’s … and for veterinary medicine in general.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education (AVMA COE) made the decision to accredit St. George’s during a Sept. 18-20 meeting in Schaumburg, Ill. Last April, seven COE members traveled to Grenada to assure that St. George's veterinary school met the council's 11 accreditation standards.
Veterinary students who attended St. George's in April but graduated in June are considered to have been educated at an accredited school.
The COE’s volunteer-based group is composed of 15 voting members, charged by the U.S. Department of Education with accrediting veterinary schools in the United States. However, the COE’s mission to assess the facilities of foreign programs is self-imposed, rooted in AVMA policy that seeks to spread its “gold standard” of veterinary education internationally.
For the 160 or so veterinary students who graduate from St. George’s annually, U.S. accreditation boils down to this: They can bypass foreign graduate equivalency tests as a first step toward earning a license in America, and now sit for the same national and state examinations posed to graduates of programs based on U.S. soil.
This distinction offers a cost savings for St. George’s veterinary graduates. Testing and fees tied to two analogous equivalency examinations — the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates and the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Educational Equivalence — can cost thousands of dollars.
Considering that nearly 90 percent of St. George’s veterinary students are from the United States or Canada and tuition is $46,000 a year, accreditation offers an important cost savings, says Dr. Kristin Chaney, an associate professor in the Large Animal Medicine & Surgery Academic Program.
It also assures students that they’re attending a top-rated program, she says.
“It eliminates all the additional examinations and costs that our students would have to go through to get a license to practice,” Chaney says.
Students attending St. George's veterinary program spend their first three years in Grenada studying basic sciences and pre-clinical medicine. During their fourth year, students attend one of 29 COE-accredited universities in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland or Australia to complete their clinical rotations.
Ross University sends its fourth-year veterinary students through a similar system. One difference between the two Caribbean institutions is that Ross has an older veterinary program, founded in 1982. Another distinction: Ross has long been considered a Title IV institution, meaning its students have had access to loan programs that include, among others, Federal Pell Grants and Stafford loans.
St. George’s was not approved for Title IV eligibility until last year. Before the economic downturn, the distinction mattered little to students who had easy access to private lenders at affordable interest rates.
When private funding fell apart in 2008, St. George’s students were caught in a bind, Chaney says. SLM Corp., commonly referred to as Sallie Mae, still issued loans — for a high price. Some students had to take out private loans just to pay their Sallie Mae interest rates.
That lending environment forced some students to drop out of the program and caused unrest among those heavily indebted. Now with access to Title IV federal aid programs, students are rematriculating, Chaney says.
News of the COE’s nod has been equally encouraging, she adds.
“This not only certifies us as being a premier program, it guarantees our students can practice anywhere without taking foreign graduate exams,” Chaney says. “And a majority of our students will practice in the United States.”