Lincoln Memorial’s veterinary college receives accreditation go-ahead

Proposed veterinary education in Buffalo, N.Y., reportedly busts

July 17, 2013 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

The nation’s 30th veterinary medical college will open next year in Tennessee.

Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary and Comparative Medicine plans to admit 85 students in fall 2014, after receiving reasonable assurance from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s accrediting arm, the Council on Education (AVMA COE).

The COE voted July 2 via a conference call to extend reasonable assurance, which signifies that a school is prepared to meet the body’s 11 accreditation standards. Programs are eligible for full accreditation once their inaugural class graduates.

Officials with Lincoln Memorial, or LMU, believe the veterinary college will help distinguish the small liberal arts university in Harrogate, Tenn., “as a leader in professional studies for the region,” said LMU Board of Trustees Chairman Autry O.V. DeBusk in a statement.

Dr. Randall Evans, founding dean of the veterinary college, could not be reached. Tuition is expected to cost around $40,000 a year.

The accreditation of Lincoln Memorial comes on the heels of the COE’s nod toward Midwestern University’s new veterinary college, which received reasonable assurance from the accrediting body in June.

Midwestern, located in Glendale, Ariz., is slated to admit 100 students in fall 2014.

Rather than build traditional, campus-run veterinary teaching hospitals in which to train students, both colleges plan to employ distributed teaching models. That means fourth-year students will rotate through off-campus clinical sites — typically private veterinary practices — in order to gain their clinical acumen.

Acceptance of the distributed model was paved by Western University of Health Sciences, which battled for nearly a decade with the AVMA COE before gaining full accreditation for its veterinary college in 2010. Some academicians believe such offsite learning lowers the bar for veterinary education because the teaching of students cannot properly be scrutinized.

But clinical education via distributed learning can be as rigorous as the training that goes on at traditional veterinary medical teaching hospitals, counters Dr. Peter Eyre, dean emeritus of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Eyre consulted on the development of Lincoln Memorial during the early days of its formation. He believes that a traditional veterinary teaching hospital isn’t feasible for Lincoln Memorial because the university is located in the Cumberland Gap, a region of the Appalachian Mountains where the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet.

"There's not much of a population base there, and distributed clinical education and training should serve them well," he said.

At the same time, loosening accreditation to permit colleges to go without traditional veterinary medical teaching hospitals, which cost tens of millions of dollars to build and maintain, has helped ease the way for newly emerging programs .

Two hours south of Midwestern’s Glendale campus is the University of Arizona, which also has a veterinary college in the works. If all goes as planned, it could be the first veterinary college in the United States to offer a DVM degree in six years rather than the traditional eight years it takes most other American students to graduate.

Meanwhile, a growing number of practitioners are generally critical of efforts to open new schools, especially when academicians perpetuate the idea that the United States is in desperate need of more veterinarians.

Complaints from veterinarians, many of whom struggle with astronomical student loan debt and low salaries, range from stifling competition to reports of stagnant or dwindling demand for their services. Last spring, the AVMA confirmed that veterinarians are economically stressed in a report showing that the profession suffers from “excess capacity,” meaning veterinarians aren't as busy as they'd like to be in practice.

The study fell short of acknowledging what many veterinarians consider a glaring truth: Too many veterinarians are vying for the same limited number of clients.

Dr. Colin Chaves, a practitioner in Fort Bragg, Calif., reacted to news of Midwestern's accreditation with sarcasm.

"Yes. Need. More. Veterinarians. Don't. Have. Enough," he wrote on a message board of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession.

Dr. Kamran Khan, of Chetek, Wis., expressed contempt for the AVMA, which many believe should publicly discourage the opening of new schools while the profession struggles with a soft economy and oversaturation.

"Your AVMA at work," he wrote on VIN. "Glad to see membership dues are going to destroying members' careers. It's like paying a criminal to rob you later."

AVMA officials repeatedly have stated that it's not within the association's purview to meddle in the U.S. job market, especially through its accreditation body. Critics counter that the AVMA's accreditation efforts are in conflict with its role as a membership organization and the COE should be run by an independent organization.

Such backlash hasn't helped prospects to build a $65-million veterinary college in Buffalo, N.Y. Last year, developer Chason Affinity announced plans to turn the abandoned Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital into a school enrolling as many as 600 students. The project later transformed into a deal to turn the property into a clinical teaching site for students from Ross University, a Caribbean-based veterinary school owned by DeVry Institute.

Local media are reporting that the prospective union between Chason Affinity and DeVry is defunct. Owners of Millard Fillmore are looking to sell the property to new developers.

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