There was a time when the Iowa State University-University of Nebraska-Lincoln Program in Veterinary Medicine (PPVM) stood by itself – a unique program in veterinary medicine that benefitted both institutions.
Over the next decade plus, the program has not only matured, but it now serves as a model for other veterinary schools to offer.
“The idea was to develop a partnership that built on the strengths of both schools and both states’ populations,” said Dr. Clayton Kelling, director of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “For Nebraska that was beef cattle systems and it was swine programs in Iowa.”
On the outside, the PPVM looks like a simple program. Each year, approximately 26 Nebraska students are admitted to Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. For the first two years, students attend veterinary classes at the Lincoln campus before they move to Ames to finish their four-year degrees.
It’s a win-win situation for both schools, each state and the Nebraska students, who pay in-state tuition for all four years of veterinary school.
“The state of Nebraska receives a huge benefit with this program,” said Dr. Renee McFee, who serves as the PPVM coordinator. “Our students get to stay in Nebraska not only for those two years, but approximately two-thirds return to practice in the state after they graduate.”
First of its Kind
The PPVM program started in 2006 and was the first in the nation to offer such a program. Kelling gives all the credit to the program to Dr. John Thomson, who was serving as Iowa State’s veterinary medicine dean at the time, and to Steve Waller, dean of UNL’s College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources.
“This was John Thomson’s idea,” Kelling said. “Previously Nebraska had contracts with Kansas State’s College of Veterinary Medicine to send students there for all four years. Over the years, we had contracts with Iowa State, Kansas State, Ohio State, Missouri and Minnesota.”
Enter Iowa State and John Thomson.
An MOA was signed between the two schools in 2006, with the first class starting at Lincoln in the fall of 2007. The idea soon caught on. Similar cooperative programs have been established at Washington State University (with Utah State University, Montana State University and the University of Idaho), Colorado State University (University of Alaska-Fairbanks), and the University of Minnesota (South Dakota State University).
How it Works
The first two years of the program’s curriculum consists primarily of basic sciences. The Nebraska faculty work hand-in-hand with Iowa State’s faculty to make sure that the curriculum, as well as the material being taught, aligns between the two schools.
Faculty share syllabi with each other. The two administrations are in frequent contact to make sure the Nebraska students are getting the same background as their fellow Iowa students.
“We work hard to make sure our students can blend in seamlessly into their third year in Ames,” McFee said. “There is communication between the two schools to make sure our (Nebraska) students aren’t going to be lost in their third year.”
Still there are some differences. Surgery is taught slightly differently. And even instructors at the same institution don’t always teach the same subject like a colleague would.
“It’s not that much different from having a job in one veterinary clinic and then changing jobs and going to another clinic,” McFee said. “Things are going to be different and it’s good to learn more than one way to do things.”
Classes are more clinically focused in the third year, while the fourth year is dedicated to clinical training. Once the Nebraska students get settled into their new lives in Ames, they quickly notice the difference.
“The biggest difference was the class size,” said Nick Schmit, a current fourth-year student from Nebraska. “The classes here are the largest classes I have ever been a part of.
“The other change was having multiple teachers per class. At UNL we typically had one instructor per class. Here we may have multiple teachers writing one test, which can be challenging.”
Making the Transition
McFee admits that there was a learning curve involved with transitioning the Nebraska students to Ames; however, “feedback indicates that students are integrating relatively quickly and smoothly. “
That’s probably because the University of Nebraska-Lincoln helps their students make the leap. Current third- and fourth-year veterinary students go back to Lincoln and offer suggestions on their experiences.
Those suggestions include tips of where to live, what to expect in their classes and encouraging Nebraska students to join a vet med club immediately in order to get to know the Iowa State students.
“We strive to be aware of the challenges our students face in making the move and help prepare the students for these challenges,” McFee said. “We encourage them to become involved in clubs and other activities right away because it’s nice to have another cohort of students that they can interact with.”
Iowa State faculty and administrators have also made the journey to Lincoln to meet with the students. This fall, Dr. Dan Grooms, the Dr. Stephen G. Juelsgaard Dean of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Jared Danielson, associate dean of academic and student affairs, spoke with the students.
The students were engaged, asking questions about signing up for classes for their third year, next fall’s orientation and other issues that will affect them upon their arrival.
Every effort is made to make the students feel welcome in Ames. Schmit says he and his fellow Nebraska students were met with open arms. A special potluck was held, allowing the Nebraska students to meet their new classmates and get started on the right foot.
Schmit also decided to move to Ames over the summer instead of right before the fall semester started.
“Doing this made me more comfortable with Ames as a town,” he said. Still there are challenges.
“Some students do face a disadvantage having to pick up and move in the middle of vet school,” McFee said. “Nobody likes to move but we try to help with their transition as much as possible.”
And once the Nebraska students get to Ames, things seem to work out.
“I think intellectually we are at the same place as the Iowa State students,” Schmit said.
The ninth PPVM class that graduated this past May was notable in many ways.
Chief among them is that this marked the first time PPVM students received a joint diploma identifying both Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska.
“The change in the diploma represents the contribution of both universities and it really meant a lot to our program,” Kelling said. “It reflects that our students are graduates of the University of Nebraska as well as Iowa State University.”
The previous eight PPVM classes that have graduated will also receive individual joint diplomas recognizing both schools. More than 40 alumni attended an event on the Nebraska campus this past September and were the first alumni to receive the new diploma.
“The joint diploma recognizes the strong partnership our institutions have built and the success the PPVM has in educating veterinary students,” McFee said.
The Nebraska students are doing their part as well to recognize the partnership that exists. Attend a class any given day and you’ll see lots of Nebraska clothing being worn. But almost as many Iowa State shirts can be seen as well.
Making the two programs one has been critical in making the nation’s first PPVM program a model for other veterinary schools and universities to follow.
“I believe we have shown this to be a successful model, otherwise no one else would have been interested in developing a similar program,” McFee said. “Both administrations have worked well together.
“If that didn’t happen this experiment would have failed a long time ago.”