What’s Ahead for the College of Veterinary Medicine

Sep 18, 2014 / Message from the Dean

This message appeared in the October-November 2014 issue of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association Bulletin.

In my eight months as dean,

I’ve learned about the origins of the college, the forces that have shaped it, and the aspirations of the faculty who are creating its future.

At the college’s Fall Conference in September and again at the ISVMA meeting in November, I have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with alumni and friends. This column presents some of the thoughts from that presentation.

By the end of 2014, faculty will identify specific goals to achieve over the next five years. This plan will become our shared vision for the College of Veterinary Medicine, and a big part of my role will be to communicate this vision to the Illinois veterinary community, college supporters, university leaders, and others.

While that plan is still taking shape, I can safely say that education, discovery, and clinical service will remain the foundation of the college mission, so I’d like to convey where we are and where we’re headed in each of these areas.

Veterinary Education

Where we’re at: With the introduction of its innovative curriculum between 2009 and 2013, Illinois has become a global leader in veterinary education.

A few of the benefits of the Illinois curricular approach include:

  • Earlier clinical training that makes preclinical coursework more relevant;
  • Using an “organ systems” teaching approach that integrates preclinical and clinical information to train students to think like a clinician;
  • Exposure to a range of clinical settings through 15 one-week rotations during the first three semesters in order to broaden students’ openness to career options.

To support our new curriculum, Illinois has established the nation’s most comprehensive Clinical Skills Learning Center. This facility, open 24 hours a day, augments rather than replaces interactions with live animals and allows educators to optimize the use of live animals.

Where we’re headed: Every revolution takes time. Faculty continue to fine-tune the curriculum based on data from student outcomes and other feedback. We are currently reexamining the timing of the clinical blocks that occur in the first two years of the program.

Another important educational initiative involves a $2.2 million renovation of space vacated by the library, with matching dollars from the campus, to support the small-group learning styles of today’s students.

Discovery

Where we’re at: With the marked decline in state support for public universities over the past 20 years, the make-up of the college’s state budget has gone from 80 percent from general state funding and 20 percent tuition-based dollars in fiscal year 1998 to 45 percent from general state funding and 55 percent tuition-based dollars in fiscal year 2012.

The impact of increasing reliance on tuition dollars has been escalating tuition costs and increases in student numbers. In 1995, class size was about 85, and less than 5 percent of students were from outside Illinois. Today we admit classes of 120, and about 16 percent pay out-of-state tuition. The number of Illinois residents admitted each year has also grown over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, to address budget rescissions, the college has lost tenure-track faculty positions—those with a heavy research commitment—while to keep pace with the increased class size we have added clinical-track, instructor-level, and visiting faculty positions.

These trends are not unique to Illinois and are felt at veterinary institutions across the country. One consequence of declining research faculty numbers and the concomitant decline in scholarly output is that Illinois has fallen in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which are generated through a simple survey of veterinary deans and selected department heads. The rankings, however, do correlate with research activity.

Where we’re headed: Illinois is in a rebuilding phase, and I am confident our research program will regain its previous strength. Since January, we have hired five tenure-track and one clinical-track faculty members, most with both veterinary and PhD degrees. They are Drs. Igor Canisso (equine reproduction), Ryan Fries (cardiology), Fabio Lima (bovine reproduction), Bianca da Costa Martins (ophthalmology, to start in summer 2015) and Annette McCoy (equine surgery, to start January 2015) in Veterinary Clinical Medicine and Dr. Rebecca Smith (epidemiology) in Pathobiology. We are on track to hire an additional 15 tenure-track faculty members over the next three years.

Clinical Service

Where we’re at: Illinois is extremely fortunate to offer an outstanding breadth of clinical specialties at its Urbana teaching hospital. I’d like to particularly highlight the return of cardiology and neurology referral services this year, as cardiologist Dr. Ryan Fries joins us from Texas A&M University in October and Dr. Devon Hague became boarded in neurology last summer. In addition, we have a unique resource in Dr. Laura Selmic, who joined us in 2013 and is one of a small number of Founding Fellows of Surgical Oncology recognized by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

I’m also very pleased that Dr. Drew Sullivan, an Illinois graduate from 2011, has accepted the position of medical director for the college’s primary care service in Chicago, the Medical District Veterinary Clinic at Illinois.

Where we’re headed: To continue advancing our clinical services, the college is vigorously pursuing opportunities to add a linear accelerator to our oncology service and to upgrade our imaging capabilities with a Siemens refurbished 3 Tesla magnetic resonance unit.

Overall, the future for your College of Veterinary Medicine looks very promising. I welcome your comments and support. Contact me at dean@vetmed.illinois.edu.