Faculty of veterinary medicine welcomes new dean

From lovable puppies to tired racehorses and injured owls to boisterous bovine, Dr. Alastair Cribb has dealt with every kind of animal. Cribb’s new post as dean of the University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine has him preparing for a new kind of wildlife: university students.

“Private practice is challenging in that there’s a lot of variety,” said Cribb. “Every 15 or 20 minutes there’s a different person and animal walking through the door. In a university setting you have an idea of what’s going to happen that day, what classes you’ll teach.”

Cribb is an alumnus of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Saskatchewan, and has since spent time in academic, research, industry and private practice settings, including time spent at the University of Toronto where he received his PhD in clinical pharmacology.

He begun his teaching at the University of Prince Edward Island and was founding director of the P.E.I. Health Research Institute. Cribb has also been a Canada Research Chair in Comparative Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Now Cribb wants to make U of C’s vet school a different experience for students. The faculty–still in the midst of being cobbled together–is busy creating an intensive curriculum of only three years and securing plans for new facilities.

Although the faculty base will be located in the Health Sciences Centre for lecture halls and research space, there will also be a lab in the city’s northwest at Spy Hill Farms where students will learn clinical skills as early as their first year.

Since most veterinary medicine programs in Canada take four years to complete, the three-year program will be rigorous, and depends on research based learning and short vacations, said Cribb.

“I understand why people get nervous about so much research at universities,” explained Cribb. “But there are two faces of research: you can either be squirreled away in a lab, or you can bring research into the undergraduate experience.”

Cribb hopes the program can mold vets who can treat animals through evidence-based medicine, using knowledge of current research to determine the best course of action for an animal or a herd.

But, before any teaching plans and course outlines can be finalized, the vet school is still waiting on clearance from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council of Education.

After former veterinary medicine dean Dr. Peter Eyre resigned in October 2005 and publicly criticized the school for moving ahead without proper funding, there’s been speculation the school would not be ready for a September 2007 opening, despite already being pushed back a year.

“Before we can accept students we need accreditation,” said Cribb.

The vet school is expecting a visit from the AVMA at the end of June. This consultation is the first step to a letter of reasonable assurance by Mar. 22, 2007. If these criteria are met, applications for the following fall will be accepted.

“It’s not that there were problems [which were causing delays],” said Cribb. “But people were being a little optimistic, the goal was a lofty one and there wasn’t then the manpower to do it.”

The province and the U of C are now committed to the project, he said. This commitment includes more than $50 million in government funding, which will support the faculty’s operating costs for the first four years.

Animal lovers can rest assured that soon enough there will be a legion of Calgary trained vets getting beloved pets back up to scratch. In no time at all those puppies will be back to eating your homework and the cattle will be making cow patties for you to step in.

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