There are 28 veterinary medical colleges, nine departments of veterinary science, and eight departments of comparative medicine in the United States, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). Two additional schools are expected to open in 2014.
The American College of Veterinary Medicine Council on Education (AVMA COE) outlines an accreditation process to assure high standards of achievement for veterinary medical education. One of the required standards for accreditation includes: “The college must demonstrate substantial research activities of high quality that integrate with and strengthen the professional program.”65
Accredited colleges meet this standard in a variety of ways, including didactic curriculum, research externships, and other specialized instruction. Nineteen colleges offer a dual DVM/PhD degree.66 Of these, only one, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, receives NIH MSTP funding. A number of schools have established their own Veterinary Student Training Program (VSTP), using their own endowment funding. The high cost of providing such training precludes developing a significant workforce parallel to MD/PhD tracks.
Training grants available from the NIH Office of Research Infrastructure (ORIP) Division of Comparative Medicine to support the development of veterinarian-scientists include Postdoctoral Programs (T32), Predoctoral Programs (T32), and Summer Programs for Veterinary Students (T35). Seventeen veterinary programs currently have a postdoctoral T32 grant, five have a predoctoral T32 grant, and 15 have a T35 grant. Currently, only one VMD/PhD program (University of Pennsylvania) shares an MSTP T32 grant with the MD/PhD program at the same institution. Funding, however, has been flat for many years.67
Individual training grants for early career investigators, specifically K01 and K99/R00 awards, are also available from the Division of Comparative Medicine within ORIP. (See Figure 2-3 for a brief description of these NIH training grants.) Funding available for this program has also not increased for many years.
The Merial Veterinary Scholars Program, whose mission is to expose veterinary students in their first or second year of veterinary school to biomedical research and career opportunities in research is often used to augment the NIH T35 program. Participating students spend 8 to 12 weeks during the summer in a mentored research experience at a participating veterinary school. Students have an opportunity to present their findings at the Merial-NIH National Veterinary Scholars Symposium (partially sponsored by an NIH R13 award). The 2013 symposium was attended by students from 38 participating veterinary colleges in North America and Europe and included 456 students and had a total attendance of 600.
Evaluation of outcome data from three institutions with longstanding DVM-PhD training (UPenn, Cornell, UC Davis) indicate that approximately 60 percent of postgraduate dual degree students enter academic careers, and a substantial portion of these individuals enter fields focused on clinical or translational research of interest to NIH. This trend is parallel to outcomes for MD-PhD trainee entry into the biomedical workforce arena, though as noted above, the lack of dedicated MSTP funding for DVM/PhDs has significantly limited development of these programs.
67 NCRR, 2008