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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

Qualitative Research Findings Related to Veterinary Students

Qualitative research about the training of veterinary scientists included two focus groups, one with seven DVM students and one with five DVM/PhD students, as well as an interview with the dean of one school of veterinary science that offers a DVM/PhD degree.

Only one of the seven participants in the DVM-only focus group expressed a specific interest in conducting research. The others entered veterinary school seeking to pursue clinical careers caring for animals; some became more interested in research as a result of their academic training. In general, these students believed that a DVM degree should be a sufficient credential to do research, and believe that research can be incorporated into clinical practice setting. At the same time, they felt frustrated that research organizations wanted individuals who also had a PhD degree. They also found that the additional training time required to earn a PhD was a daunting prospect and were anxious to begin working so that they could pay off their student loans, which they consider out-of-proportion to veterinary salaries. An accelerated DVM/PhD program was recommended as one alternative.

DVM students would also like to have opportunities to work with medical students. There is a direct relationship between human medicine and animal medicine research, but little is taught to either group about the concept. They also recommended earlier exposure to veterinary research programs be developed to encourage greater student interest.

The DVM/PhD students felt there was little to no support or guidance for someone looking to pursue a research career. The prevailing feeling was that veterinary schools were not equipped to help graduates move on to a research career after finishing a combined DVM/PhD. Further, there was a perception that there are not many opportunities in veterinary research.

The dean of a veterinary science school who participated in the qualitative research estimated that 10-20 percent of students are interested in a research career. He cited the lack of research mentors and high levels of student debt as factors in students’ decisions not to pursue a research career. He noted that there is only one MSTP program funded for veterinarians and urged more funding for veterinary dual degree programs, as well as greater access to the Loan Repayment Program for veterinarians.