ORO VALLEY — The University of Arizona’s College of Veterinary Medicine is rolling into its second year of teaching and second cohort of future veterinarians with its different approach.

Instead of the traditional four years of lectures and clinical instruction, students finish both their course work and clinical instruction in an intense three years, according to Dr. Gayle Leith, a veterinarian and associate professor of equine practice at the college.

According to the class schedule posted on the college’s website, students don’t get much of a summer break but there are wellness breaks spaced out at regular intervals throughout the year in order to allow them to take a breather from the tight schedule. Each of the two classes that are working their way through the curriculum has about 110 students. The first class is expected to graduate in 2023.

The college also focuses less on classroom lectures. Instead, students in the program are given and expected to read and study the information they will need for their class ahead of time, Leith said.

When they arrive at their class, the students are given a series of questions or situations and have to come up with their own answers based on the information they studied before class, Leith said. The students are then placed in groups to review their answers. The students have to be able to walk each other through their answers to the question.

If too many students in a class get an incorrect answer, then they return to their groups to work on the question again, she said.

Students are also tested in class using examples of real-life veterinary cases in a similar process, Leith said. In this case, students are required to present a possible route of care for the animal and be able to walk the professor and their peers through their thought process as to why they chose that method of treatment.

There are also hands-on classes, where students are taught the basic clinical skills of how to handle and care for animals, such as cattle, horses and others that they may not have much or any experience with, said Dr. Anthony Martin, an associate professor of practice at the college who specialized in large animal veterinary practice, mostly cattle and dairy cows, for more than 23 years. They also learn the basics of how to physically evaluate and diagnose an animal.

Martin said veterinary practices and teaching methods have changed since he went to school and while he was practicing veterinary medicine. Students learn more about how to use diagnostic equipment that was not available 20 years ago, he said. There is also a greater focus on preventative medicine in large and food animals than when Martin started working with dairy cows and beef cattle.

The information on various diseases and illnesses in animals has also grown, said Leith. And there are new and better ways of treating those illnesses. While some of the classes do involve working with live animals that are owned by the program, the college also uses a lot of models and simulations that allow students to practice procedures such as starting an IV in a latex model with fake blood vessels filled with simulated blood, Martin said.

Students in the program also get the chance to work with a variety of animals and learn surgical skills, business, finance, critical thinking and personal wellness skills, according to the college’s website. The college does not have a teaching hospital, Martin said. So it does not treat animals from the public. Instead, the college maintains a small herd of cattle, sheep, horses and other animals that students learn how to take care of and treat.

The last year of the program has students rotating through a series of clinical training periods at a variety of local animal hospitals and veterinary practices, according to the college’s website. After completing rotations at a general practice, a specialty practice and a primary or shelter, students have seven elective rotations and one externship where they can pick which specialty they want to study in as an effort to help them decide what they want to do once they graduate.


Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa is a reporter covering the city of Casa Grande and the surrounding area, as well as Central Arizona College. She can be reached at sadams@pinalcentral.com.