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Educational Excellence

March 2014

“Nobody teaches in isolation. I’m proud to be part of the faculty team at UC Davis.”--Matthew Mellema,  2013 AAVMC Distinguished Teacher

Although many of the school’s faculty members have been recognized for their excellence in teaching, the school’s veterinary students are the real winners of a stimulating and collaborative learning environment. A new  curriculum (implemented in 2011) provides a broad foundation of knowledge and skills in comparative veterinary medicine, while emphasizing critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-directed learning to maximize their opportunities for life-long success.

Faculty members have worked diligently to develop this new student-centered, inquiry-based curriculum, with material constructed as blocks. The primary goals of the new curriculum are to promote interactive learning and long-term retention of both basic and translational veterinary educational content. The first and second year are core for all students and designed mostly around body systems, integrating anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, clinical pathology, and imaging so students learn normal and abnormal systems together.

"I really enjoyed the hematology block because of the awesome organization,” said Damion Walters, Class of 2015. “I can honestly say that I walked away from that block with a thorough understanding of the main concepts presented to us. I am really looking forward to applying this knowledge as I move forward into my clinical rotations."

In year three, all students take a comparative stream and also choose between small or large animal areas of emphasis. After the basic large animal content, students may select a focus area of equine, livestock or zoological medicine. Students choosing zoological medicine have the unique opportunity to work with UC Davis at the Sacramento and Mickey Grove Zoos. From endangered Sumatran tigers to a flock of flamingos, the Zoological Medicine Service team examined 563 individual animals (of 161 species) at the Sacramento Zoo last year.

Having completed these streams, students move into the clinical portion of their training at the  Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the Gourley Clinical Teaching Center, and through externship opportunities. For students who want to focus on more than one area of emphasis to enhance their career choice, the new curriculum allows them the structured flexibility of participating in another stream during their clinic rotations.

When learning is interactive and fun, students tend to retain more information. For example, in one of Assistant Professor Matt Mellema’s courses, he designed an on-line histology module where students are assigned the task of "building" tissues. He also created Cardiovascular Olympics, an interactive method of testing students’ preparation in cardiovascular physiology using the audience response system.

Another key to success is the increased instruction provided in business and communication skills. The “Doctoring” course uses a multitude of approaches to foster good client communications including simulated client labs where students engage in role playing with professional actors. These curriculum offerings, across all four years, cover a range of veterinary practice and professional career building skills including: communication, business management, leadership, team building, professionalism, critical thinking, and mental well-being.

DVM students who wish to experience research may do so through the Students Training in Advanced Research (STAR) Program—an important recruitment of veterinarians considering a research career. STAR students receive formal training in laboratory procedures, animal-rearing, molecular imaging and primate research. Students network with one another during seminars, a symposium, and a fall poster session. Many students go on to become National Merial Scholars.

In addition to training DVM students, the school’s faculty members annually mentor more than 110 residents in 34 specialty areas; the largest residency program and number of specialties of any veterinary hospital. Residents spend two to five years of intensive training in specialties such as food animal production medicine, small animal surgery, imaging, ophthalmology, cardiology, equine medicine, pathology, oncology, nutrition and other fields that prepare residents for board certification, specialty practice, or academic careers.

Residents treat patients and instruct veterinary students in the real-world skills of veterinary practice. Most residents practice at clinics in the teaching hospital; some pursue training at the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center, the Sacramento Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory and other off- site facilities.

"The zoological medicine residency program at UC Davis provides a valuable platform for research cooperation between basic scientists, conservationists, and zoo veterinarians,” said Matt Kinney, third year resident.

He recently conducted a collaborative project with researchers from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Sacramento Zoo, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in an effort to better understand treatment options for diseases in desert tortoises.  His results indicate that tulathromycin may prove to be clinically useful for treating this endangered species for upper respiratory tract infection—a disease believed to contribute to the desert tortoise’s rapid decline.

More than 170 graduate students pursuing masters and doctorate degrees within the school join  graduate groups which may be comprised of faculty members from disciplines across campus in areas such as: genetics, physiology, animal behavior, epidemiology, toxicology, comparative pathology, and forensic science to name a few. By offering a unique research training environment where graduate students can interact across disciplines, the school is preparing the next generation of researchers to make a world-wide impact.

For example, veterinarian Morteza Roodgar, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative pathology, is working to develop a more efficient means of diagnosing tuberculosis. One-third of the human population is infected with the bacterium and they don’t realize it, Roodgar explained. The disease can also be passed from animals to humans, making the infection a One Health issue. With the support of the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC), Roodgar is testing genetic biomarkers in nonhuman primates. These biomarkers could ultimately be used to develop a new diagnostic test for TB—one that is more sensitive than the existing test and able to identify latent infections.

“Having a medical school, veterinary school, primate research center, and the important connecting role with the CTSC provides a unique opportunity for conducting translational biomedical research,” said Roodgar, who met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C. last year to discuss the high-impact implications of his research.

The school also offers a unique Veterinary Scientist Training Program (VSTP), which enables students to graduate with dual DVM and Ph.D. degrees, preparing them as the academic leaders of the future. Ten of 15 recent VSTP students are now in academic positions; another two are in industry (Pfizer and Roche).

UC Davis  School of Veterinary Medicine is committed to excellence in teaching by creating a challenging and interactive environment to train the next generation of veterinary associates and researchers. 

Trina Wood, Communications Officer