Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994

John R. Welser, DVM, PhD, Chair


James R. Coffman, DVM, PhD


This subject is best developed by creating a road map, not a cookbook. Thus, a succinct set of guiding principles may serve us best in setting the stage for contemporizing graduate (post DVM) education for veterinarians. The following comprise one person's view of issues upon which those principles might be based.

Strategic Focus

We need to define our terms and build strategy accordingly. Specifically, the PhD is a research degree, not a service training degree. Veterinary medicine does not compare well, in my opinion, in preparation of PhD's, in part because we fail to make this distinction.

On the other hand, specialty board certification is a designation for advanced preparation in service, not research. One of our great strengths is the opportunity to integrate experimental research and the study of spontaneously occurring disease. However, this is a Damoclean sword of sorts, because of the danger that, instead of doing both very well, we can wind up doing both poorly.

Thus, I would raise a basic question. Ought we to expect that, in the applied sciences, we should strive for more people with both the PhD and board certification, or move the other way and depend more on team building to accomplish research relevant to spontaneously occurring disease? The latter approach is not inconsistent with imparting and cultivating the spirit and skill of inquiry into the clinician. In fact, this is the lifeblood of successful clinicians over their career. However, it is not the same thing as specific training in the conduct of high-quality experimentation.

Teaching Expertise

It is noteworthy that veterinary medicine has no means of promoting or rewarding advanced expertise in teaching. While Colleges of Education occasionally include something like a Center for Science Education, which sometimes helps science faculty develop better teaching skills, it is rare for any academic discipline to substantively focus its attention on this issue.

I believe we must come to grips, in explicit terms, with the idea of innovation and research in teaching of a discipline as scholarship and be prepared to reward it with salary adjustment, promotion and tenure. Clearly, this goes well beyond "doing a good job of teaching." How far? How do we define it? Is there a small potential market niche for veterinarians with the EdD? Say, one to a college? If so, they probably could serve us best if they have strong instructional technology skills as well. Not only would this enhance teaching on campus, but it also might strengthen distance learning efforts between campuses and with the private sector.

Tri-partite Mission

It is all too easy to fall into the perpetual trap of allowing teaching, service, and research to hold a competitive or contradictory relationship rather than a complementary one. In fact, we must, above all else, do just the opposite. Teaching, service and research can and must be developed upon their complementarities rather than their contradictions. If we do not accomplish this, we will lose what is perhaps one of our greatest strengths. The use of clinical material provides an opportunity to do this. Any instance of spontaneously occurring disease provides an opportunity for:

  • A Socratic teaching and learning environment involving undergraduate students, interns, residents, graduate students, and faculty whose interests range from clinical service to research;
  • A source of data upon which to design experimental investigation;
  • Problem solving experience which engages team building and interpersonal skill development;
  • Reinforcement of the importance of service and what it is all about.

Unfortunately, large egos and territorial imperatives tend to get in the way of developing these experiences to their fullest potential.

Service Ethic

We seem to be losing the service ethic from the professional educational process. Perhaps this comes from the fact that almost no one on veterinary medicine faculties has had significant experience in the private sector, especially practice. In teaching the idea of service, there is no substitute for depending on a happy client for your income. The erosion of the service ethic in colleges of veterinary medicine must be corrected. One approach would be to rethink our image of the ideal faculty member; another would be to engage professionals from the private sector in the educational process. How can they help us? By improving our ability to provide, and teach, service that is not only high quality but cost-effective and caring.

Lifetime Learning

We should look more definitively to a seamless system which links the professional undergraduate experience to a lifetime learning process. This necessitates much more engagement of the practitioner (whether in private practice or industry) in both teaching and learning. This is not unrelated to the long-term issue of sustaining an adequate teaching caseload in the traditional academic veterinary hospital. Long term, as more veterinarians are graduated, we tend to put ourselves out of business; especially in the absence of a third-party pay system.

Is there a way to link the continuing education of the practitioner with the growing concern about caseload in teaching hospitals? We should look for one, recognizing that it will have to be approached in an evolutionary manner over a long period of time.