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Clinical Medicine to Offer Doctoral Degree

The Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine boasts a strong faculty research program and a full roster of clinical residents. To augment these strengths, the department has recently joined the other two academic departments of the College in being authorized by the University of Illinois Graduate College to grant a PhD degree. 

The College of Veterinary Medicine now enters a relatively elite circle of about five other U.S. veterinary schools that offer doctoral degrees with clinical emphasis.

Career opportunities for those with a DVM and clinical PhD are broad. “This double-barreled degree opens a wonderful array of doors in academia, industry, and government,” says Dr. Robert Clarkson, who was instrumental in securing approval of the PhD-granting program. Positions such as research manager at pharmaceutical companies and group leader at the National Institutes of Health may seek this hot degree combo, he says.

The new degree will also meet a growing demand for academicians who have both the PhD degree and diplomate status in a specialty area. “It is difficult to recruit faculty with advanced clinical training as well as a PhD degree,” notes Dr. Ann Johnson, interim head of VCM. Currently, 10 of the 35 VCM faculty members have a DVM and PhD, with most of the remaining having a DVM and master’s degree.

[Lab action photo]Offering the doctoral degree through the veterinary clinical medicine department will help meet a growing demand for this credential and will enhance the departmental research program.

The interdisciplinary nature of the clinical PhD program is revolutionary and adds to its appeal. “When you are dealing with real problems—and nothing is more real than clinical medicine—you’ve inherently got problems that are complex and interdisciplinary,” says Dr. Clarkson. “This is the future. Eventually all graduate education will look like this.” 

Students will select faculty for their doctoral advisory committees from any department within the University—for example, from biophysics, engineering, and veterinary clinical medicine—depending on the unique needs of their research. In most doctoral programs advisory committees are composed of faculty within a single academic department, bringing a rather narrow perspective to the research problem.

All students in the program will take a core curriculum including biochemistry, statistical analysis, and research methods; beyond those, the course work will also be tailored to the individual.

The availability of advanced graduate students will facilitate current VCM research and make it easier for the department to attract new clinical faculty with research interests. “Training doctoral students in clinical science enhances our research thrust,” says Dr. Johnson. The department’s faculty brings in more than $1.5 million annually in research funding. 

Clinical residents in the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital form one group of potential candidates for the new PhD program. Over the last 5 years the department has hosted an average of 25 DVM residents, most of whom have concurrently pursued a master’s degree in veterinary medical science. 

Students in the physical and medical sciences—traditional areas of strength at the University of Illinois—may also find this degree appealing, given the tremendous emphasis on biotechnology today.

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