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Students learn art and science of animal care

Before they ever step foot in a classroom or laboratory, first-year students enrolled in the doctor of veterinary medicine program at Virginia Tech’s Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine are formally presented with a white laboratory coat by the college dean.

The presentation occurs during a matriculation ceremony that concludes a busy August week filled with orientation activities. Hundreds of people, including parents, friends, family, faculty, staff, and officers from the Virginia and Maryland Veterinary Medical Associations, attend the event.

   

Fourth-year student Joey Amory from Charlottesville, Va., studies equine radiographs. Fourth-year student Joey Amory from Charlottesville, Va., studies equine radiographs.

The ceremony symbolizes the new students’ entrance into the community of veterinary medicine. Four years later, these students will take part in another ceremony — graduation.

In between the glory and pageantry of those rituals, these students will be challenged. As they make their way through the four-year professional curriculum, they will spend thousands of hours working in multidisciplinary learning laboratories, attending lectures, and providing hands-on clinical care in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Each year, 90 students — 50 from Virginia, 30 from Maryland, and 10 from around the nation — are admitted to the professional degree program.  Beginning in fall 2009, that number will increase to 95 students. They join an elite group of students enrolled in 28 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States.  Nationwide, 2,500 doctor of veterinary medicine students graduate every year.

   

Fourth-year student Melinda Cep, who is studying in the corporate and public veterinary medicine track, interacts with an animal during a recent trip to India. Cep was in the country as part of  a one-month externship. Fourth-year student Melinda Cep, who is studying in the corporate and public veterinary medicine track, interacts with an animal during a recent trip to India. Cep was in the country as part of a one-month externship.

Gaining admission represents an achievement. Almost 1,000 qualified applicants competed for the 90 slots in the Class of 2012. Their average grade point average was 3.6 (on a 4.0 scale). The 68 women and 22 men averaged 24 years of age, and while a third were undergraduates at Virginia Tech or the University of Maryland, the remainder came from 45 other institutions.

Students will study biochemistry, nutrition, reproduction, anatomy, and other disciplines as they learn normal conditions, disease states, injury, and trauma in the midst of a problem-solving environment. And unlike physicians that treat humans, these students must diagnose and be able to treat a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, birds, reptiles, and more. A T-shirt sold by one of the student clubs and organizations reads “Real doctors treat more than one species.”

During the fourth year of the curriculum, students apply their skills in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where they practice the art and science of clinical care through clerkships in medicine, surgery, radiology, anesthesiology, and other areas.

Doctoral students work outside the college during fourth-year clerkships as well. Fourth-year students have worked in impoverished regions of Central and South America and on Navaho Indian Reservations. They have also worked in the Food and Drug Administration, at SeaWorld, and hundreds of other places.

   

Fourth-year student Susanne Giattina from McLean, Va., interacts with a patient. Fourth-year student Susanne Giattina from McLean, Va., interacts with a patient.

Responding to the growing complexity of veterinary medicine, the veterinary school has created an innovative new curriculum that enables students to concentrate their studies in one of five tracks. The school is one of only two colleges in the country that offer a tracking curriculum. The tracks are:

  • Small animal
  • Food animal
  • Mixed animal
  • Equine
  • Public and Corporate

While all students explore the fundamentals of a core curriculum, the tracking programs allow them to focus more on specific career paths during their professional training. 

  • For more information on this topic, contact Jeffrey Douglas at jdouglas@vt.edu, or call (540) 231-7911.

Back to basics in veterinary medicine

Board-certified veterinary specialists use an array of sophisticated technologies to diagnose and treat the challenging cases referred to Virginia Tech for advanced-level care. Read more.

    Dr. Gregory Troy (left) examines a canine patient.

What is tracking?

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine  is one of only two veterinary schools in North America that has a tracking curriculum, starting in the second year of the doctor of veterinary medicine curriculum. Students can focus on, or "track," their primary area of interest. Read more.

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