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Vet venue verdict

U of C announced vet school to open fall 2008

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The University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine will open fall 2008. The much anticipated project has been pushed back three times, leaving prospective students excited about the prospect of finally starting class.

Graduate student Nicole Germscheit explained she had wanted to go to vet school in Calgary since the first announcement was made--then-provincial learning minister Lyle Oberg announced the U of C would have a vet school by fall 2006.

"I just defended my master's thesis; I've been around for awhile," she said. "I'm definitely excited because now it means that I can apply to vet school for this upcoming year, I don't have to wait any longer. It allows Albertan residents to have another option for school. They're not just restricted to applying somewhere where they'd have to relocate."

The school will be the fifth vet school in Canada and will initially accept only 30 applicants per year. University of Calgary president Dr. Harvey Weingarten explained he thinks the school may feel pressure to grow as time goes on. The 30 students must be Albertan, a decision linked to provincial funding.

The province had donated $80 million for infrastructure funding and $46 million in operating costs to cover the first four years. Weingarten noted the only negotiations that were left with the province were to finalize the operating budget.

"We are aware that the school has identified there are additional costs associated and we'll be working with the university to develop a viable long term funding strategy. From our point of view, [the university] has to consider quality of education and it has to consider the affordability of the program," said Alberta Advanced Education and Technology spokesperson Donna Babchishin. "There are things we have to work on [with] the university."

Province-wide, there is a need for veterinarians, explained U of C faculty of veterinary medicine dean Dr. Alastair Cribb.

"In Alberta, for the last ten years, we've been registering between 60 and 110 new veterinarians every year," said Cribb. "Only 20 students from Alberta currently go and get their education in Canada. That means we've been attracting veterinarians to Alberta from other locations and the demand for vets is increasing across the world. If we don't have more students in the program, we're going to be in a worse deficit than we are now. When you graduate, you're basically guaranteed a 100 per cent employment."

The American Veterinary Medical Association is the accrediting entity for U.S. and Canadian veterinary schools. The AVMA's council of education makes accrediting decisions based on standards ranging from organization and finances, clinical resources, and faculty, explained AVMA spokesperson Dr. Beth Sabin explained.

"The status that was awarded to the Calgary school is a letter of reasonable assurance," said Sabin. "Then the school has to admit its first class and continue providing reports back to the council on education about its compliance with the standards and there will be a process that it goes through with comprehensive site visits at specific times once they have students at the school. Then. there are different levels of classification that goes up from a letter of reasonable assurance to provisional accreditation. Once they're near graduating their very first class, there will be a full-site visit after which the council will make a determination on accreditation status."

Former dean Dr. Peter Eyre resigned in Oct. 2005 when the school announced the opening would be delayed until fall 2007. When he left he publicly criticized the project for forging ahead without the funding in place to do so. Eyre was unavailable for comment.

"It was slower getting off the mark then we would have liked and Peter expressed part of that," said Weingarten. "The important thing now is to ask the question of 'Are we on track? Can we deliver?' The answer to all those questions is yes. But there's no doubt that Peter was frustrated. He felt it was not going the way he would have liked it to proceed."

The vet school plans to tie together the issues of animals and human health to be a leader in veterinary education, explained U of C associate dean of research Dr. Jay Cross.

"It's been estimated that over 70 per cent of human infectious diseases have a counterpart of their origins in animals, be that wildlife or domesticated animals," said Cross. "The SARS virus, Avian Influenza or West Nile virus as examples that have been newsworthy in the last few years and as it has been to date schools of medicine or public health are focused on human health, and schools of veterinary medicine have been quite separated. Even at institutional levels, or government levels, often those different professions are working apart in different departments. Our goal is to be able to train people that can work across the interface."

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