Most US and Canadian veterinary medical schools support ‘tracking’

Written by guest blogger, Elizabeth A. Stone.

Class of 1950 stained glass window, Ontario Veterinary College

‘‘Abandon the unrealistic concept of the universal veterinarian who can minister to the health needs of all creatures great and small.”
Dean William Pritchard, 19891

Each of the three major planning initiatives undertaken by the veterinary profession in the last 30 years has included a version of this recommendation. During this time, veterinary schools have begun to embrace this perspective as shown by a survey of deans, previous deans and academic associate deans of accredited veterinary schools. Seventy-one percent of the survey participants agreed that “at our school, tracking (e.g., emphasis areas, focus areas, streaming) where students focus on a class of animals or a discipline area begins in either year one (2.6%), year two (15%), year three (35%), year four (39%) or year five (6%).”2

Veterinary school leaders want to ensure that their students achieve entry level competencies by the time they graduate, which is a Herculean challenge even for one class of animals or discipline area and most likely impossible for “all creatures great and small”. The visionary, Dean Pritchard, recognized this conundrum in the 1970’s and worked to implement the first tracking curriculum at UC Davis. Since that time the knowledge explosion and emerging new disciplines within veterinary medicine and biomedical science as a whole have made the possibility of educating ‘the universal veterinarian’ even more remote.

One argument against tracking has gradually lost its validity, i.e., that tracking decreases the ability of graduates ‘to change careers in the future’. Given the rapid pace of discovery, we are fooling ourselves if we think that the facts and procedures we currently teach our students, whether they track or not, will prepare them for a major career change 5-10 years from now. Instead, we can focus on helping them learn how to learn, to solve problems, and to develop their own career goals and plans to achieve those goals now and in the future.

If as a profession we can move beyond the arguments about whether or not tracking is a good idea (since most schools are already doing it), we can make more progress figuring out how to ensure that all veterinarians, no matter what their focus, master the essential ‘veterinarian competencies”. What might these be? My starting list would include the following: Be able to 1] provide informed opinions and discuss with the general public such topics as modern food production; key welfare issues; responsible use of antibiotics; importance of translational biomedical research; 2] effectively collaborate with public health and medical professionals within their communities; 3] work in a team environment as an employee, colleague and leader; and 4] monitor and sustain one’s own self-awareness, personal health and well-being.

What would be on your list?

Then the next question is: how do we incorporate these and other critical learning areas into the curriculum so that all students become competent and successful veterinarians?

1 Pritchard WR. Future directions for veterinary medicine. Durham, NC: Pew National Veterinary Education Program, Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, Duke University; 1989.

2 Stone EA, Reimann J, Greenhill LM, Dewey CE. Milestone Educational Planning Initiatives in Veterinary Medical Education: Progress and Pitfalls. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. 2018;45(3):388-404.

Elizabeth A. Stone, DVM, MS, MPP, DACVS, is the previous Dean and a Professor in the Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1 Canada, and an Emeritus Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27607 USA. Her research interests include leadership development, educational innovation, and the role of veterinarians in society. Her article "Milestone Educational Planning Initiatives in Veterinary Medical Education: Progress and Pitfalls" is free to read for a limited time: http://bit.ly/jvme453k