Lincoln Memorial veterinary school size begins to double

100 more students start classes Jan. 9

Published: January 05, 2023
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During their final year of veterinary school at Lincoln Memorial University, students learn clinical skills by rotating through sites including private practices, animal shelters and LMU's DeBusk Veterinary Teaching Center in Ewing, Virginia (pictured), which is 15 miles east of the main campus in Harrogate, Tennessee.

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Next week, and for the second time this school year, a new cohort of veterinary students will begin studies at Lincoln Memorial University. The private institution in Tennessee aims to almost double the size of its veterinary college by doing what no other U.S. program has done: add a class to its academic calendar.

"We have filled the class," Dr. Stacy Anderson, dean of the program in Harrogate, Tennessee, pronounced on Monday, referring to the 100 new seats. By email, she explained that the students were selected from a pool of candidates who applied to enter LMU's veterinary class that began in August. From here on out, the program will welcome two sets of first-year students a year; one class will begin in August and the other, in January.

If all goes as planned, 225 veterinarians a year will graduate from LMU College of Veterinary Medicine, more than any of the other 33 programs in the country. Still, LMU's model for expansion isn't unique among veterinary schools that draw predominantly American students. Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in the Caribbean, attended mostly by Americans, enrolls new batches of students three times a year — in September, January and May. St. George's School of Veterinary Medicine, also in the Caribbean, has a similar enrollment schedule.

Anderson explained in a news release that the LMU veterinary college, which opened in 2014, was constructed with growth in mind: "LMU built spaces to accommodate class expansion and engaged hundreds of veterinary practices to train our students in the distributive clinical year. We stand ready to produce more confident, competent, career-ready veterinarians."

LMU said its efforts are aimed at easing the nation's tight supply of practitioners — a phenomenon that's led to burnout and curtailed services in recent years, even as the economy cools ahead of a possible recession. The American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education, the U.S. accrediting body for veterinary education, approved the change in October.

To accommodate the larger student body, the LMU veterinary school will enlarge its staff, Anderson said in an email interview: "We will add around 60 full- and part-time employees, with around 20 of those allocated for faculty."

Anderson said graduating more veterinarians from LMU is important for needy areas of Appalachia — echoing a founding principle of the program to serve the people of its region, particularly those who struggle economically.

Right now, she said, "approximately 20% of our graduates work in Appalachia." She did not specify what proportion are in rural, impoverished or otherwise underserved parts of the region.

Class sizes expand

Other institutions, too, are directing resources toward educating more veterinarians. A purported dearth of veterinary care throughout the U.S. has prompted a surge of new programs, with Rowan University School of Veterinary Medicine in Glassboro, New Jersey, and Utah State University College of Veterinary Medicine, north of Salt Lake City, in line for AVMA accreditation. New programs in West Virginia and Arkansas reportedly are in the works, too. 

This is happening at a time of growth among existing U.S. and Canadian programs. LMU, for example, opened with an inaugural class of 87 students and seated 125 students in fall 2022 — an increase of more than 40% in eight years. Colorado State University recently launched a $278 million project to expand and upgrade its facilities at its College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The veterinary school plans to increase its class size by about 30 to a total of 170 students to meet "increased market demands for regional and national veterinary care," according to a news release.

Citing similar reasons, the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine plans to double the size of its entering class to 200 by 2024.

The trend extends to Canada. The University of Saskatchewan College of Veterinary Medicine recently upped its class size from 78 to 88, its maximum capacity. A more significant expansion is planned at the University of Calgary in Alberta, where the provincial government has agreed to invest some CA$67 million (US$49.3 million) to double the number of veterinary college seats to 100 by 2025. Officials cite concerns over a brewing veterinary shortage in the region.

Efforts to enlarge class sizes are reflected in data from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, which reports that first-year seats at U.S. veterinary institutions increased, on average, 2.6% per year between 2011 and 2022. Right now, there are 3,938 first-year students studying at veterinary colleges across America, up from 3,860 in 2022. Total U.S. enrollment hovers around 15,000.

Just how much veterinary education can expand depends heavily on the availabilty of state appropriations and private funds, which typically are needed to support new and growing programs, said Lisa Greenhill, senior director for institutional research and diversity at AAVMC. She notes that the larger class sizes and new programs will not be felt in the market for several years, when more graduates start entering the workforce.

"I think we're likely to see major changes in the next decade — because, frankly, it will take a few years for colleges to develop and implement any plans to address workforce issues," Greenhill said. "It's like turning a huge ocean liner."

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