Should education become a veterinary specialty?

Panel that decides is taking comments through Feb. 28

February 9, 2022 (published)
Photo courtesy of Dr. Jane Manfredi
Dr. Jane Manfredi of Michigan State University (in blue) uses a model horse to teach a student how to perform a rectal examination. Manfredi advocates making veterinary education a specialty as a means of supporting and spreading good teaching practices.

In veterinary medicine, there are nearly 50 specialties, covering organs and bodily systems (cardiology, dermatology, ophthalmology), animal types (avian, feline, beef cattle), and sectors (animal welfare, zoo medicine, emergency and critical care), to name a few. Should education and teaching be a specialty, too?

That question is before the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, through a proposal to create an organization that would set standards for advanced teaching education and certify those who achieve the standards. The ABVS is inviting public input, to gauge the need for and acceptance of the proposed specialty. The comment period ends Feb. 28. 

The proposal to establish an American College of Veterinary Medical Education (ACVME) gives this rationale: "Teaching touches every veterinarian, regardless of species, practice type, or career path; yet learning how to do it well is neglected in higher education, especially in all levels of veterinary medical education."

The specialty, the proposal maintains, would "advance animal care by creating a pool of expert and specialist teachers who can improve every student's and veterinarian's knowledge and abilities through high-quality, effective teaching."

Board certification would elevate good teaching, says Dr. Jane Manfredi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine who is a specialist in large animal surgery.

"You can be fantastic at surgery and still not necessarily have the best tools on how to communicate that to others or how to explain it," Manfredi, a member of the ACVME organizing committee, said in an interview. "Many times we are going off of our natural-born talents, or teaching the way we were taught, and that's not always the fastest, most efficacious way of teaching."

In brief

Manfredi has been interested in best practices in teaching since her days as a graduate student and resident at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. While on faculty at Michigan State, she's pursuing a postgraduate certificate in veterinary education from the Royal Veterinary College, which is based in London.

"We do some online learning and reading, meet synchronously every three weeks or so," she said. "But it's not the one-on-one mentoring you'd get from residency training, where you'd be observed in the process of teaching very regularly."

That kind of support, she believes, is needed for faculty members who are interested in "learning more about how we can be most effective in our teaching practices. And that will help this next generation of veterinarians be competent, self-directed learners."


Some find the proposal to create a specialty college for veterinary education to be unworkable and question its necessity, since training resources and teaching support already exist within universities and entities such as the Academy of Medical Educators

Dr. Rachael Carpenter, a part-time clinical instructor in anesthesiology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, believes that veterinary faculty in general could benefit from more instruction on how best to deliver education. 

However, she's not convinced that a specialty college is warranted. 

"I could see this as an advancement suggestion, adding titles and certification," mused Carpenter, who also is a consultant for the Veterinary Information Network, an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service. "I definitely don't think it's a bad idea for veterinary faculty to get more training on how to educate veterinary students. I just don't see this as specialty level. What need is missing that would be filled by this?

"It's not like people who have already done a residency can't already do certifying programs like the master's in veterinary education through the Royal Veterinary College," she continued. "Why not start by making the programs that we already have, better?"

Carpenter noted that residencies typically are a three-year commitment for those who don't have a faculty position, and six years for those who do. "It takes twice as long to do the residency and you only get a portion of your salary," she said. "You have to take a pay cut to do it."

Dr. Mark Rishniw, a veterinary cardiologist who teaches biostatistics, biomedical-paper writing and cardiology at Cornell University, has submitted a comment to ABVS opposing the proposed specialty, calling the potential time commitment required of certification the "most glaring and obvious concern."

"Presumably, the only people who would seek this certification are academic faculty who are involved in teaching (mostly didactic, non-clinical)," wrote Rishniw, who also is research director at VIN. "How would these candidates find the time to pursue yet another qualification in addition to their regular faculty commitments of clinics, teaching, research and service?"

In other specialties, he said, "A residency is a full-time commitment."

Another concern Rishniw raised is that veterinary students often are taught by non-veterinarians such as anatomists, biologists, microbiologists, virologists, parasitologists and physiologists. Faculty without veterinary degrees would be shut out of the proposed specialty college, creating a two-tier system.  

"Creating a certification program that excludes such educators simply because they have no veterinary degree will lead to a bipartite hierarchy within the veterinary college," he wrote. "Given that education is not specific to veterinary medicine nor to veterinarians, why are these educators excluded from becoming diplomates?"

Leading the effort 

The proposal to create a veterinary education specialty was conceived in the fall of 2020 at the Lincoln Memorial University Center for Innovation in Veterinary Education and Technology, according to Dr. Stacy Anderson, dean of the LMU College of Veterinary Medicine.

"We have a huge interest in veterinary education at LMU," Anderson said in an interview.

According to its website, the center is home to researchers "investigating novel veterinary educational methods, disruptors of traditional didactic lectures, creators of models for clinical skill simulations and assessments, and front-line clinical educators."

What they've found, Anderson said, is a subset of veterinarians who are passionate about education. "So creating a new college for veterinary medical education would give those folks a way to credential not only in their specialty, but ... in veterinary medical education," she said.

Regarding questions about how residency training would work, Anderson said it's possible that a residency wouldn't be required at all. Instead, she said, the structure of the proposed specialty could look like that of the American College of Veterinary Preventative Medicine, which offers alternatives to completing a residency for board certification.

According to its website, ACVPM candidates must have "qualifying experience or training" obtained one of two ways: the completion of a graduate degree or other formal training in preventive medicine, public health or a related science; or be in the final year of a college-approved formal training or residency program.

Decisions about the ACVME structure won't be finalized until it's given the green light to proceed, Anderson said: "It is too early in the process."

Other provocative questions yet to be answered center around other aspects of pay. For example, in general, specializing improves practitioners' earning power. Would that be the case for someone board-certified in veterinary education? Or would faculty salaries ultimately be reduced for those without board certification?

In his comments to the ABVS, Rishniw also wondered how the mentors of the first ACVME candidates might be identified: "Unless a group of veterinarians are 'grandfathered' into the specialty, there are no grounds on which anybody would qualify that have been listed in the proposal," he wrote.

Anderson said such questions would be answered as the college evolves. "Nothing really happens until after the public opinion, and until we know whether the American Board of Veterinary Specialties will allow the ACVMS to move forward to the next phase of development," she said.

"This specialty board is a way to allow some quality control of veterinary medical education, for which there is none," she added, apart from the accreditation process that certifies veterinary school programs. "There's no best practices that are formally recognized by the profession or other specialty colleges."

Anderson noted that there is already a move by regional groups, including the Southeast Veterinary Education Consortium and the Consortium of Western Regional Colleges of Veterinary Medicine, to identify, share and leverage expertise in teaching, thereby providing platforms for veterinary education. Forming a specialty college "would give a national or international feel to this movement," she said.

The ABVS, which is a 12-member committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association, currently recognizes 46 specialties and 22 specialty organizations.

If ultimately approved, veterinary medicine would be the first health profession to make education a specialty. 

Update: The American College of Veterinary Medical Education organizing committee withdrew its application to become a specialty college and instead is developing of an Academy of Veterinary Educators.

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