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Cornell University Veterinary College Achieves Top Ranking

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Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, consistently rated as among the best in the nation, has been ranked as the No. 1 veterinary program in the U.S New and World Report's 2008 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools."  The USNWR veterinary school rankings are compiled every four years and are based on questionnaires sent to deans, administrators and faculty members at schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In order to achieve accreditation by the AVMA, a veterinary college must meet a number of rigorous standards, which run the gamut from clinical resources to curricular requirements to financial soundness. With a total of 28 accredited veterinary colleges in the country -- all providing a quality veterinary education to their students -- to be rated No. 1 is no small achievement. So, what is it that makes Cornell stand out?

In a recent interview with WebVet, Michael Kotlikoff, dean of Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, offered this comment on Cornell's top standing: "There are a lot of terrific veterinary colleges, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Rankings reflect an assessment of a school's aggregate strengths.'' Kotlikoff attributed Cornell's top ranking to the "breadth and consistency in quality'' of the College's programs.

'Problem-based' and 'experiential' veterinary education

That breadth and consistency are reflected in Cornell's innovative approach to clinical instruction. While all veterinary colleges provide their students with a grounding in the core areas of veterinary science, Cornell has adopted an approach that Kotlikoff describes as "problem-based'' and "experiential.''

The problem-based approach is based on a method of instruction first adopted at Harvard Medical School in the training of its medical students. Traditionally, the core, pre-clinical subjects -- such as anatomy and physiology -- are taught in large lecture classes outside of the "real world'' clinical setting. At Cornell, these subjects are integrated into clinical instruction, which students receive from the very beginning of their veterinary education.

For example, students might be presented with the "problem'' of a dog with a knee ligament tear or a cat with an intestinal problem. They then study the relevant anatomy and physiology while working with their instructors in a closely mentored "hands-on'' environment. In this way, basic veterinary science and clinical practice are fully integrated throughout a student's education.

The "experiential'' aspect of Cornell's program has three components:

  • Clinical practice: All students are engaged in clinical practice throughout the course of their veterinary education and rotate through the veterinary specialties in the school's several clinical settings.
  • Community practice: In the community practice clinic -- a facility that serves financially underprivileged pet owners -- students are on the front lines of patient care; they are the first caregivers to examine patients under the supervision of experienced veterinarian-instructors. Students are videotaped as they examine patients and interact with clients. In this way, there's no awkward transition from theoretical classroom instruction to the nuts and bolts of real-world veterinary practice.
  • Research: Cornell has the highest level of funding from the National Institutes of Health of any veterinary college. Students are afforded broad opportunities to be involved in cutting-edge veterinary research.

Breadth and quality: beyond the basics

The breadth of Cornell's veterinary education program is enhanced by its specialized institutes:

  • The Cornell University Hospital for Animals sees an average of 19,000 animals per year. Its caseload includes complex cases referred by veterinarians throughout the country, especially the Northeast. The hospital's specialty medicine services include radiation oncology, complex orthopedic surgery and comprehensive medical imaging, including CT scans.
  • The Baker Institute for Animal Health was founded in 1950 and is one of the premier veterinary research organizations in the country. Among its many achievements are the development of a national distemper immunization program, the first vaccines for canine parvovirus-type 2, an early diagnostic test for canine hip dysplasia, and the first gene therapy to restore sight in congenitally blind dogs.
  • The Cornell Feline Health Center is a specialty center devoted to improving the health of cats. The center has been instrumental in feline vaccine research, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and the development of a test for the diagnosis of feline infectious peritonitis.
  • The Animal Health Diagnostic Center works in close partnership with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The center is a key institution in the areas of disease protection for agricultural animals as well as surveillance of animal-borne diseases that can infect the human population, such as Avian Influenza and West Nile virus.

While all 28 AVMA-accredited veterinary colleges in the United States prepare their students for veterinary practice -- many at an outstanding level -- the consensus among their peers in the profession is that, overall, none exceed Cornell's standards of quality and educational excellence.

Credit: Reviewed by Dr. Amy I. Attas, V.M.D. 
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