Midwestern University is recruiting 100 students for its 2014 inaugural class to become the nation’s 29th veterinary medical program.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s accrediting arm, the Council on Education (COE), has extended a letter of reasonable assurance to Midwestern’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Glendale, Ariz.
Reasonable assurance signifies that a school is prepared to meet the COE’s 11 accreditation standards
. Programs are eligible for full accreditation once their inaugural class graduates.
Dean Brian Sidaway, DVM, did not return phone calls seeking comment. In a press release
, university President Kathleen H. Goeppinger praised him for doing an “excellent job in developing the plans for this new college.”
“The AVMA has extremely high standards as an accrediting group, and we are pleased that our plan met their requirements,” she added.
The veterinary college at Midwestern is Arizona’s first, but it's unlikely to be its last. The University of Arizona in Tucson, roughly 130 miles south of Midwestern’s Glendale campus, also has a veterinary medical program in the works.
Officials with the University of Arizona are attempting to develop the program.
Lawmakers and academicians have for decades expressed a desire to build veterinary education in Arizona. Such talks strengthened in the 1990s and early 2000s as demand for veterinarians reportedly ballooned in the United States.
Two decades later, the profession’s landscape has changed. Across the country, veterinarians are facing stagnant or declining demand for their services. At the same time, colleges are increasing their class sizes and churning out more graduates than ever.
The cost of veterinary education also is bursting the profession’s bubble. Midwestern, for example, anticipates that annual tuition for the four-year program will be around $50,000 — a high price to pay considering that starting salaries for new graduates are in the range of $65,000 a year.
The debt-to-earnings imbalance also could be compounded by job scarcity. A recent AVMA workforce study revealed “excess capacity” within the veterinary profession, with the nation’s supply of veterinarians exceeding demand by about 11,250 full-time practitioners.
The study predicts such market trends will persist for the foreseeable future. The reality is that some Arizona veterinarians are rethinking the need for in-state veterinary education.
“We really don’t need any more full-time veterinarians in Arizona,” said Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a private practitioner in Scottsdale and delegate to the AVMA, representing Arizona.
Midwestern veterinary students likely will rotate through private practices in the area to develop their clinical skills via an educational model known as distributed learning. The college also is breaking ground on a small animal teaching hospital on campus.
“There are concerns that Midwestern’s teaching hospital will compete with local practitioners,” Brown said.
Fifteen or so veterinary practices exist in Glendale, home of Midwestern’s emerging veterinary college. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 227,000 people resided in the Phoenix suburb in 2010.
“All signs are pointing to the fact that we have more veterinarians than we need here,” said Dr. Michael Sorum, an equine practitioner and member of the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association Board of Directors.
Sorum’s practice is in Scottsdale, roughly 20 miles west of Glendale, and he travels to find work. The job market has changed in the 30 years since he graduated from Kansas State University, when veterinary education cost less than $700 a semester and jobs were aplenty, he said.
At the same time, Sorum is optimistic about how the emerging veterinary schools ultimately will impact Arizona. One plus: Residents now can seek veterinary education in their home state.
What’s more, greater competition among job seekers can be beneficial to practice owners. “They can hire people cheaper,” he stated.
Sorum acknowledges that the situation isn’t ideal for new graduates, but he believes the profession’s health will turn around if veterinarians start looking for work outside clinical practice settings.
At age 57, he's returned to school for a master’s degree in conservation medicine.
“We’ve always been told that veterinarians work in practice on animals, but I think the future is public health and disease surveillance," Sorum said. "Eighty percent of the veterinarians in this country are in private practice, but that’s not the case in most countries. We need to make that transition.”