Cows and communicable disease

By Natalie Vacha

September will see the opening of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary.

This year the faculty will welcome 30 students, putting the province and the U of C on the leading edge of research into areas such as food supply safety and zoonotic diseases like BSE and West Nile that can jump from animals to humans.

The veterinary school will work closely with the Faculty of Medicine and offer a three-year Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine degree. Though graduate degree programs such as Masters of Veterinary Science and PhD of Veterinary Medicine are not currently being offered, they should become available within the next few years.

As well as co-ordinating with the Faculty of Medicine, the veterinary school will also work with other veterinary programs in post-secondary institutions throughout Alberta. Eventually collaborative degrees may be offered. Students will have the opportunity to start their studies at a different institution and finish them in Calgary.

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine has been lauded for its innovative efforts in several areas, such as hands on experience.

“One of the distinctions is that we teach clinics,” said Associate Dean of Clinical Programs Dr. Eugene Janzen. “Students will participate in examining a horse or a dog, for example, or they may look at a field problem.”

Field problems might include respiratory disease in livestock or issues with wildlife. Students will be given the opportunity to examine animals, take samples and plan a therapeutic regime.

Practical work will not be limited to senior year students, as has usually been the case.

“There will be more hands-on clinical [work] in the junior years.” he said. Traditionally students would not see an animal until their third or fourth year.

Another first for the faculty is its general focus of study, which is the relation between human and animal health. Few schools emphasize the integration between the two as strongly as Calgary’s will, said Janzen. Working within this overarching philosophy students will then have the opportunity to specialize in three areas: wildlife veterinary medicine and conservation, food health and animal safety, and investigative medicine.

“To our knowledge to have a veterinary and medical school under the same roof doesn’t happen very often,” added Janzen, “It’s rare.”

The school has received heartening support from the university and the larger community. In preparation for the fall commencement the U of C has allocated a dedicated space inside the Biomedical Sciences building for offices and lecture halls. Major renovations have been made to the Animal Resources Centre, and a $12 million expansion to the Life Sciences Research Centre has been approved. The Province of Alberta has also stepped in with start-up funding to develop the school. As well, members of the educational, agricultural, and veterinary medical communities in the area are helping to develop the program for the school as part of its steering committee.

“We consider this to be a community effort” said Dr. Janzen.

New faculty members will be joining the school, as will adjunct teachers in the community and private practice, who will contribute to the education of the students.

During the final year of study the Veterinary School will assign students to practices affiliated with the faculty. Aware of the aid and experience the practices will provide to the students, the faculty plans to offer some compensation.

“They will help us to teach the students,” said Janzen, “so we don’t expect they will do it without some renumeration.”

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