Breaking New Ground with the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine
By: Kaitlyn Hale
Texas Tech broke ground on the new School of Veterinary Medicine in September, but members of the university system have been laying its foundation for more than 50 years.
When the Texas Tech University School of Medicine was established in 1969, plans for the campus included developing a veterinary school. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board even approved an application to grant a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, but that approval was ultimately never funded.
Guy Loneragan, the dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine and a veterinary epidemiologist, said discussions to establish a veterinary school arose every decade or so, and the most recent discussions began in earnest in 2014. At the time, Senator Robert L. Duncan became the chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. Duncan had heard about the need for more veterinarians during his time as a member of the Texas legislature, Loneragan said, and was interested in responding to that need. Loneragan, who was looking for new ways to expand research activities, knew that vet schools were a great meeting place for researchers in medicine, biomedical engineering, life sciences, and more.
"Then in 2015, the two interests in the program merged," Loneragan said, "and we had the opportunity to really develop this in a really significant and meaningful way."
The school's new home in Amarillo is ideal for several reasons, including its location on the TTUHSC campus, which houses the School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, and School of Health Professions. Pharmacological and other health research can share many applications with veterinary medicine, Loneragan said. The location allows both campuses to take a One Health approach, which recognizes the connection between the health of humans, animals, and the wider ecosystem.
"You may have a chemist looking for novel drugs, for instance," Loneragan said, "and often times those drugs have applications in both animals and people. For instance, cancer is a disease that affects both animals and people."
Loneragan said collaborations between the schools could also forward research on issues like infectious diseases that are transmitted between animal and human populations. The school also has the opportunity to engage with other colleges and departments at the university on work like novel vaccine platform technologies.
Though the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree is central the School of Veterinary Medicine, accreditation also requires the school maintains a high level of research activity. Research themes that build on the strengths of the veterinary school, as well as Texas Tech and the TTUHSC, are already being developed.
The School of Veterinary Medicine will accept its first class in the Fall of 2021 pending all necessary approvals, but the development and accreditation processes are already well underway. With funding secured, the school has started hiring 21 faculty positions, as well as staff.
It is also working with the THECB, which approves all higher education programs in Texas, and the American Veterinary Medical Association – Council on Education, the accrediting body for all veterinary schools in the US and Canada. Once the first steps in accreditation are approved, the school will begin recruiting and admitting its first class.
As the second veterinary school in the state, Texas Tech has the flexibility to concentrate on the much narrower focus of small, agricultural, and regional communities while increasing access to affordable education for Texans.
More Texas students now attend out-of-state veterinary schools than the number who can attend the state's existing veterinary school. A second option for Texas students will provide more opportunity to cut the high costs of out-of-state tuition they might experience at a university outside of Texas.
"Being second also means the Texas Tech school doesn't have to try to be a little bit of everything to everyone," Loneragan said.
"It allows us to redesign the admissions criteria, the curriculum, the type of research programs, the experiential learning for the students around a much narrower set of goals," he said. "So in that sense, it's very liberating. We're trying to really build on our strengths at Texas Tech and over a long period of time, a mainstay of those strengths has been solutions for agriculture communities."
The narrow focus and location allow the school to focus on improving veterinary medicine especially in rural or regional communities like Amarillo, Tyler, or central Texas, whether the veterinarian works with small or large animals, or a mix.
The Amarillo location also means the school can study the best ways to support the ever-growing and evolving livestock industry of Texas.
"That opens the door to thinking about the academic entities supporting the livestock industry," Loneragan said, "and the veterinary services we can help develop to support them, but also the research opportunities as well."