Work is underway to transition Utah State University’s program in veterinary medicine to a four-year, doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree-granting institution. Since Utah legislators approved funding that paves the way for the new program in early 2022, USU’s School of Veterinary Medicine has officially become the university’s ninth college, separate from the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (CAAS).
Dr. Dirk Vanderwall is the interim dean overseeing the tremendous team effort required to develop and staff the new college. Vanderwall is the former head of the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences and associate dean of Utah’s portion of the Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine. In the current program, USU admits up to 30 students each year, 20 of whom must be Utah residents. Students complete two years of foundational study at the Logan campus, and then move to Pullman, Washington, to complete their final two years of training at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“For years, Utahns interested in veterinary medicine were forced to go out of state for training,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox said. “That’s why we’re so excited and grateful that the legislature funded the College of Veterinary Medicine at Utah State University. This investment is a long time coming and the new program will serve would-be veterinarians and the public for generations to come.”
There are just 33 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the country. By contrast, there are 192 schools in the U.S. offering MD and DO degrees. USU President Noelle Cockett noted the new college will provide educational opportunities for Utah students who otherwise would not be able to pursue a doctorate in veterinary medicine due to limited seats in veterinary medical schools.
“We also anticipate significant growth in research and technology development in the areas of veterinary and biological sciences, thereby providing another economic boost for the state,” President Cockett said.
Connections with animal science researchers at USU have helped fuel the development and growth of biomedical technology companies that are important economic drivers and create jobs in northern Utah. Data from other institutions indicate that every $1 the state invests in a school of veterinary medicine attracts an average of $2.50 of research funding.
CAAS Dean Ken White notes that while care for companion animals is the limit of many peoples’ experiences with veterinarians, expert care for large animals and wildlife are crucial facets of public health and food safety. Animal agriculture in Utah is valued at more than $1 billion a year, with 25 of the state’s 29 counties reporting livestock operations as the dominant facet of their agricultural economy.
Rather than build and continually staff, operate, and update a large veterinary hospital, USU will use a model pioneered by other veterinary schools in the country. Fourth-year students, supervised by qualified faculty veterinarians and working with board-certified specialists, will receive clinical training at veterinary practices throughout the state. Participating veterinarians will be compensated for hosting and mentoring students, and their patients will have access to visiting specialists’ expertise.
“Utah Veterinary Medical Association (UVMA) members are excited about legislators having funded the new school and look forward to seeing how it develops because it will have an important impact on veterinary medicine in the state,” said UVMA President and USU veterinary pathologist, Dr. Jane Kelly. “Our members will be integral to the program as they host fourth-year students and faculty members in their clinics and hospitals. The new school will be an important asset for veterinarians throughout the state, many of whom are overwhelmed by the numbers of patients and clients they work so hard to serve.”
Before that can happen though, the new college is developing curriculum, facilities, and plans that must be approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education. The council limits how many programs are evaluated each year, so USU anticipates that fall semester of 2026, a class of 80 students will be admitted to complete all four years of their DVM training in Utah. Until then, the USU College of Veterinary Medicine continues training future veterinarians as a partner in the WIMU program.