Shortages of veterinarians in academia, public health, and other nonpractice areas of the profession have been a concern for many years, and various strategies have been used to meet the needs of the profession in these career fields.1–3 One of the strategies used by the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences to help fill these gaps has been the development of the alternative career choice, or alternative track, for fourth-year veterinary students.
The alternative career choice program was designed for students who have an interest in a nonclinical practice or unique career path. The program gives professional students the flexibility to gain additional experience and training in areas not emphasized in the professional curriculum.
Typically, students planning careers in areas such as research, public health, laboratory animal medicine, pathology, or specialized clinical practice in zoologic or exotic animal medicine are those who choose to pursue the alternative career choice option. This option may involve multiple combinations of on-campus and off-campus experiences, clinical rotations, special assignments, electives, didactic courses in the college of veterinary medicine or the university, and research assignments.
For the most part, the number of students in the alternative career choice program has remained small (Table 1), but data for recent graduating classes demonstrate the potential for substantial growth in the program. Although this trend increases the potential for reducing shortages of veterinarians in nonpractice careers, it potentially creates problems for the veterinary medical teaching hospital. As more students seek off-campus rotations as part of the 16-week alternative career choice program, fewer students remain to fill the clinical rotations required to provide adequate service to patients at the hospital. Faced with the possibility of not being able to maintain a critical mass of students for servicing hospital patients, the faculty thought it expedient to evaluate the effectiveness of the alternative career choice in meeting its goals.
Breakdown of graduating classes by career track.
|Class||Class size||Career track|
|Large animal||Small animal||Mixed||Alternative|
Early indication of students'clinical track selections.
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Riddle C, Mainzer H, Julian M. Training the veterinary public health workforce: a review of educational opportunities in US veterinaryg schools. J Vet Med Educ 2004;31:161–167.
Telephone survey of recent graduates of the college's alternative career choice program.
|1. What was your career interest upon entry into the professional veterinary curriculum?|
|2. Why did you choose the alternative career track in your fourth year?|
|3. If you had the fourth year of the veterinary professional curriculum to do over again, would you still select the alternative track as compared to small animal, large animal, or mixed? Why or why not?|
|4. What changes would you have made to the 16 weeks spent in the alternative track of your fourth year?|
|5. Was 16 weeks too long, just right, or too short?|
|6. Do you think your alternative track had a positive or negative effect on your performance on the licensing examinations?|
|7. Did your alternative track experience have a “significant” impact on your present career track?|
|8. Are you still pursuing the interest that drove your selection of an alternative track?|
|9. If not employed in your area of interest, why not?|