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Veterinary students earn dual degrees
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A shortage of research veterinarians has prompted a new degree program that allows a student to earn a veterinary degree and a doctoral degree at the same time.
Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine is responding to a growing demand for researchers needed to study environmental impacts on human and animal health.
“Combining a multispecies-based veterinary education with graduate education will produce an individual uniquely qualified to address health issues in people, animals or the environment,” said Kent Hoblet, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “This program will help fill an acknowledged need in government, industry and academia.”
The degree program reduces the time it takes for students to earn a doctor of philosophy degree, or Ph.D., and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, or DVM.
“The program allows students to complete both the Ph.D. and the DVM in about seven years instead of the usual nine,” said Mark Lawrence, associate professor in the CVM Department of Basic Sciences.
Students begin the program by working on the Ph.D. portion of their studies for two years. They then slow their Ph.D. pace and complete the veterinary medical degree in the typical four years. After earning the DVM, students can take advantage of an additional year to finish the Ph.D.
“This sequencing is different from the programs that have been tried at other veterinary colleges,” Lawrence said. The format at those schools has been two years of DVM work followed by completion of the Ph.D. and then completion of the DVM.
“Those programs have had about a 50 percent success rate,” Lawrence said. “One of the reasons so many have failed is that students drop out of the philosophy portion to pursue the veterinary medicine degree, almost never the other way around.
“Professional schools promote a strong sense of community within a class; students bond over the stress and intensity of their studies. After students have bonded with their class, they often don't want to finish with a different class,” he explained.
After developing the new sequencing, Lawrence and others at MSU discovered that two other veterinary schools have developed a similar structure for their Ph.D./DVM programs. Each of the schools developed the format independently.
“It's always encouraging to see that other schools have come up with similar solutions to the same problem,” Lawrence said.
Students interested in the program must complete two separate interview processes -- one for entry into the veterinary program and one for entry into the Ph.D./DVM program.
“Students must be admitted to the veterinary curriculum first, and they get no special treatment,” Lawrence said. “In fact, the admissions committee for CVM does not even know if a student is also applying for the Ph.D. program.”
Students who enter the combined program are rewarded financially. While working solely on their philosophy degrees, students receive a graduate student stipend and tuition waiver. While working on their veterinary degrees, students get a tuition break of $10,000 per year.
“They are committing to a very long course of study,” Lawrence said. “Our goal is to reduce the time and debt burden they face.”
Research veterinarians may work in a university or industry setting or in human or animal pharmaceutical research. Perhaps less obviously, the National Institutes of Health are seeking out research veterinarians to help them with their goal of improving human medicine and health.
“There's a huge need for translational research today -- that is, research that translates new discoveries into health products and techniques that can impact people's lives -- and the first steps are always in animal testing,” said Lawrence. “The NIH and others are increasingly aware of how valuable research veterinarians are in these fields.”
Today, three students have begun the program. Gail Moraru, from Aptos, Calif., is currently researching veterinary parasitology with basic science assistant professor Andrea Varela-Stokes. Lauren Bright, a native of Boiling Springs, S.C., is working with clinical science assistant professor Cyprianna Swiderski on equine medical research.
The third student, Talisha Moore of Starkville, has been studying neurotoxicology with basic science assistant professor Jeff Eells. Admitted to the program retroactively, Moore has completed two years of Ph.D. work and is now in her second year of the DVM program.
Contact: Dr. Mark Lawrence, (662) 325-1195