Letters to the Editor

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In defense of funding new US veterinary schools

We concur with the sentiments expressed by Dr. David Lane in his recent letter to the editor1 concerning the troubling economic landscape for rural veterinary practice and the need to improve selection of students likely to return to rural areas to practice. However, we disagree that money allocated to establishing new US veterinary schools would be better used for student scholarships at existing institutions.

As educators, we recognize the responsibility veterinary schools have to deliver a sustainable future for the profession and foster innovation to accomplish this. The troubling increase in the ratio between educational indebtedness versus starting salaries for new veterinary graduates makes it difficult for new graduates to enter rural practice. Therefore, although the program has not yet been accredited by the AVMA Council on Education (and changes may be required), the University of Arizona's newly formed School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) was designed to make our program more affordable by using capital assets more efficiently and effectively, continually assessing our curriculum for relevance and efficacy, using technology and partnering with the University of Arizona's two medical schools to decrease overhead costs, better using faculty time, and using the school's endowment to provide scholarships for students who expect to practice in rural Arizona. Nine semester-equivalents of professional education will be delivered over three calendar years to reduce associated living costs, consistent with the recent trend in medical school education.2 Our three foundational pillars of commerce, human-animal interdependence, and one health will, we believe, help build a sustainable profession locally and globally.

We agree with Dr. Lane that the admission process should prioritize students from rural areas who are most likely to return to those areas to practice. For the University of Arizona SVM, we anticipate the student selection process to focus heavily on those behaviors associated with success in areas of need and less so on grades. The selection process is expected to combine Behavioral Event and Multiple Mini interviews (BEIs and MMIs), enabling faculty to identify students most likely to return to rural areas. Additionally, our Pathways Program for admittance into the required preprofessional year provides mentorship for students from underserved areas. The SVM and its Student Affairs Office will work closely with the University of Arizona Office of Tribal Relations and rural community colleges near the Mexican border to identify talented students likely to return to their communities following graduation.

We believe that veterinary students with experience practicing in rural environments in the United States will have the knowledge, skills, and aptitudes needed to work in underserved countries.3 The SVM's primary teaching hospital will be a mixed animal, public-private partnership located in an underserved, bilingual, rural area near the Mexican border, along with adjacent ranchlands in southern Arizona involved in substantial international commerce. Almost half of the students' clinical year will take place in multiple rural locations in Arizona.

We believe this combination of approaches has the potential to improve rural veterinary practice and deliver a sustainable future for the profession. We in academia must be our own harshest critics and create innovations and transformations to work smarter. An opportunity exists now to implement solutions through the creation of this new veterinary program.

Bonnie Buntain, ms, dvm

College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

School of Veterinary Medicine

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz

Sharon Dial, dvm, phd

School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz

David G. Besselsen, dvm, phd

Director, University Animal Care

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz

Shane Burgess, BVSc, PhD

Dean, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz

  • 1. Lane DM. Troubling economic landscape in rural practice (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016; 248:367.

  • 2. Grossman RI, Abramson SB. Needed: a three-year medical degree. Available at: www.wsj.com/articles/needed-a-three-year-medical-degree-1455752081. Accessed Feb 17, 2016.

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  • 3. BeVier GW. The role of the US veterinary profession in improving livestock health and productivity and reducing poverty in the developing world. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016; 248:369370.

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Shaping cattle behavior

I read with great interest the JAVMA News story1 reporting results of a study showing that calves petted and exposed to soft talk from humans early in life grow quicker and later produce more milk.

Cattle are a prey species and, like horses, they are precocial at birth. Their imprinting period is immediately postpartum and their learning potential is at its lifetime peak neonatally.

I have spent over half a century advocating the gentle handling of newborn foals to my colleagues and to the horse industry. It took a long time to be accepted because it is nontraditional, but my Foal Imprint Training Program, as I call it, is now in use all over the world. I have observed the same results in cattle, as, for example, in the European Alps where the cattle are housed all winter in a barn that is adjacent to or below the home, so the newborn calves are handled soon after birth.

Precocial species behavior can be shaped, for better or for worse, as soon as they are born.

Robert M. Miller, dvm

Thousand Oaks, Calif

1. Study: calves grew faster with gentle attention. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016; 248:475.

Acclimation to dental care in cats and dogs

The recent exchange of opinions concerning anesthesia-free dental cleanings1,2 has been instructive. It would seem reasonable to anesthetize dogs and cats that are not accustomed to undergoing oral examination or not amenable to dental probing, as this would be more humane for the animals and safer for the veterinary staff. But there may be practice-enhancing ways to avoid these situations. For example, dogs and cats can become amenable to oral examination and, potentially, professional cleaning if they have been trained to accept being restrained and having their gums regularly massaged. Such training could provide some relief when animals are teething but may also reduce the incidence of people being bitten, especially children in the family and caregivers needing to restrain animals. Veterinarians might consider recommending regular gum massage and application of an animal dentifrice, along with cradling-restraint and general massage,3,4 to owners of young dogs and cats as a way to accustom them to handling later in life.

Michael W. Fox, bvetmed, phd, dsc

Golden Valley, Minn

  • 1. Carmichael DT. Concern with anesthesia-free dental cleaning (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016; 248:601.

  • 2. De Jong J. More on anesthesia-free dental cleaning (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016; 248:601.

  • 3. Fox MW. Healing touch for cats: the proven massage program for cats. New York: Newmarket Press, 2004.

  • 4. Fox MW. Healing touch for dogs: the proven massage program. New York: Newmarket Press, 2004.

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