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First Clinical Medicine PhDs Awarded at Illiniois
by Julia Foster

Accredited in 1999, the doctoral program offered by the College’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine brought forth its first graduates—Drs. Christopher Kuster and Shola Sulaimon—at the commencement ceremony in May.

These two and others currently in the program represent a broad range of backgrounds and areas of study, but they share a commitment to finding research-based solutions to clinical problems.

“There is a strong need for people with clinicalexpertise and the ability to conduct research,” says Dr. Peter Constable, who serves as the department’s assistant head and director of research and graduate studies. “That combination is important for the future of the veterinary profession.

“And as the profession becomes more specialized, there is a trend toward clinical medicine departments offering a PhD program, which brings Illinois into the top tier of veterinary schools.”

[Dr. Kuster]Dr. Kuster, a native of Kewanee, Ill., completed his bachelor’s, DVM, and master’s degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Still, he felt there was more work to be done in the area of boar fertility and artificial insemination. When the PhD program became available, he decided to continue his studies.

Dr. Kuster says the clinical medicine degree allowed him to “first identify a clinical problem, prove it exists, and then do basic science to elucidate the mechanism.” His research uncovered some hard evidence to answer swine producers’ questions about artificial insemination.

His faculty support represented all three departments in the College: from veterinary clinical medicine, former faculty members Drs. Gary Althouse and Peter Bahnson as well as Drs. Ted Lock and Borje Gustafsson; from veterinary pathobiology, Dr. Randy Singer: and from veterinary biosciences, Dr. Rex Hess. Dr. Kuster also appreciated the chance to collaborate with members of the animal science department in the campus agricultural college.

During his job search, Dr. Kuster has found the dual DVM/PhD degree to be in high demand in private practice, government, industry, and academia.

[Dr. Sulaimon]Unlike Dr. Kuster, Dr. Sulaimon hails from the opposite side of the globe. After earning a veterinary degree from the University of Maiduguri in Nigeria in 1994, she worked in a small animal practice for two years, then came to Illinois for a master’s degree. Working with veterinary clinical medicine faculty Dr. Barbara Kitchell, Dr. Sulaimon later decided to continue her studies with Dr. Kitchell and Dr. Robert Clarkson.

She says the clinical medicine doctoral degree offered her the angle she needed to pursue oncology study.

“It allowed me to immediately apply my work, serving as a bridge between clinical work and basic research,” she says. “The incidence of cancer is increasing worldwide. The clinical medicine PhD program offered me the chance to pursue translational research using in vitro therapeutic models, so I could elucidate a possible mechanism of chemo-resistance in canine malignant melanoma, thereby improving cancer therapy for people and animals.”

Dr. Sulaimon is currently pursuing post-doctoral studies in oncology at the Center for Comparative Medicine at the University of California, Davis, getting hands-on training in research and writing, using mouse models of breast cancer.

More doctoral students are following in the clinical medicine footsteps of Drs. Kuster and Sulaimon. The program currently has three students working on research in equine gastrointestinal disease, clinical pathology, and laboratory diagnostic medicine. Two more students—from Mexico and Egypt—will enter the program this fall and spring.

According to Dr. Constable, about one-third of the department’s doctoral students are from abroad, which “provides diverse perspectives and important ties with the rest of the world, fostering the development of international relations.”

The department’s goal is to have ten PhD students by 2005. The longstanding PhD programs in the Departments of Veterinary Pathobiology and Veterinary Biosciences currently have 22 and 12 students enrolled, respectively.

“The clinical medicine PhD program attracts students and clinicians who want to be on the cutting edge of science, and it increases our department’s emphasis on scholarly activity,” Dr. Constable says. “Many of our current and new faculty hold PhDs and want to continue documenting independent and creative discoveries. The faculty are very excited about having energetic PhD students to push them along.”

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