Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994

John R. Welser, DVM, PhD, Chair


John R. August, DVM, PhD


Clinical veterinary medicine has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past 20 years. Advanced clinical services, once offered only in the university teaching hospitals, are now available in referral specialty practices in most large cities. A dearth of tenure- track positions in clinical departments, expanding opportunities in the private sector, and the opportunity to earn substantially higher salaries in specialty practice, all have changed the reasons why most applicants now seek residency programs.

The role of colleges of veterinary medicine in training private practice specialists must be clarified. The relationship between the colleges and veterinary specialists in their state must be redefined. The veterinary teaching hospitals must continue their evolution as tertiary- care facilities, positioning themselves as unique resources for the pet- owning public, small animal practitioners, and private specialists.

Essential Elements of Strong Residency Programs

Clinical training programs must reliably prepare the resident to complete board certification in a timely manner, and must provide the resident with the skills necessary to enter the next phase of his/her career or training; for example, specialty practice or a doctoral program.

Although the logistical effectiveness of the intern-resident matching program has improved in recent years, the selection process for residents must be improved, so that there is a better correlation between the career goals of the prospective resident and the unique strengths and features of the program that he/she enters.

Role of the Clinical Departments

Traditionally, clinical departments have assumed full responsibility for the training and education of the next generation of academic clinicians. The completion of a high-quality residency program, often combined with a Master of Science degree in the clinical sciences, provided the qualifications necessary to compete for academic positions. With new clinical faculty members facing rising expectations for scholarly productivity and basic research experience, few clinical departments are now qualified to assume total responsibility for training residents for career success in tenure- track positions.

Clinical departments must redefine their role in the training of future tenure- track clinical faculty members. Their most important objective must be to provide the resident with clinical training of the highest quality. Partnerships must be developed between clinical and basic science departments, so that residents wishing to pursue academic careers may be provided with strong research experiences in PhD programs.

The effectiveness of the combined residency/Master of Science degree in preparing tomorrow's academic clinician must be reviewed critically. Combined programs may compromise the quality of both facets of the program, thereby failing to provide the resident with the essential skills for success in either the academic or practice environments of the future.

With the increasing use of nontenure- track clinical appointments, some clinical departments should develop residency programs with special emphasis on the development of advanced referral patient- care skills and teaching expertise. Graduates from these programs could compete successfully for clinical- track appointments.

The Location of Training Programs

Residency programs at most institutions are, to a great extent, mirror images of each other. Career fields for veterinarians with strong postgraduate clinical training and research experience will continue to expand. Generic programs will not be sufficient to prepare veterinarians for these new opportunities.

Clinical departments should identify the unique resources of their colleges, universities, and affiliated institutions within the region and, where possible, develop collaborative postgraduate programs that capitalize on these opportunities. More responsibility for training residents to enter specialty practice should be assumed by large private-practice specialty groups. Such programs should be developed in partnership with the veterinary teaching hospitals, which would provide experiences not available in the private sector.