ST. JOHNS — Just days after the University of Arizona received approval for a new College of Veterinary Medicine program, Dean Julie Funk, D.V.M, came to St. Johns to tour the area and meet with officials from the city and from Northland Pioneer College in order to discuss and investigate the rural community.

The new program would offer the state’s first public College of Veterinary Medicine degree and allow Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M) students to graduate in just three years, using a year-round curriculum that focuses on practical training and active-learning experiences. Traditional D.V.M. programs take four years, in addition to the four years spent earning a bachelor’s degree.

Previously, students who wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine would have to attend college out of state.

“We’re ecstatic to achieve this milestone,” Funk said in a telephone interview. “Our three-year model will put our graduates in the workforce one year sooner than other programs. We also have a distributed clinical model that will place our students in real-world practice settings in Arizona, helping ensure their career readiness.”

Part of this program will focus on the needs of rural Arizona, and third year students would be required to do a clinical training rotation at partner veterinary practices ranging from rural Arizona clinics to zoos and practices in metro areas. A large emphasis of the program however, according to Funk, would be on serving rural locations.

“In particular, we believe this is really important for the needs in rural areas, because we will have students serving as a requirement for their clinical year to have exposure to rural practice,” Funk said.

The program will utilize in-state tuition, which will make it much more affordable to students and encourage Arizona students to stay in their home state. “We think it’s critical because people that learn in Arizona will stay in Arizona,” Funk added. “And we want to make sure we have veterinarians who stay here in the state and serve the people of Arizona.”

St. Johns was chosen to visit by Funk in order to better understand the needs of rural communities across Arizona.

“One of the main reasons that I went there is that there certainly appears that there’s a real strong community initiative for economic development and helping develop opportunities for young people,” Funk said. “Chris [Chiesl] was very active in inviting me there.” Chris Chiesl, Director of the Economic Development Department for St. Johns, had been speaking to Dean Shane Burgess of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences previously before inviting Funk to come visit the community and see what opportunities there might be in a partnership.

Mark Vest, President of Northland Pioneer College (NPC) also attended the meeting with Funk, and spoke with her on how the local college could help students transition into their new college of veterinary medicine program. The discussion focused primarily on general education offerings, and how students can gain the same kind of science background that students going into a medical or allied health field would have.

“I’m confident that we will be able to meet the criteria that they want students to have,” Vest said. There might be a few courses that NPC would initially have trouble offering, but the broad range of courses that would be needed are already a part of NPC’s curriculum,” he said.

“I think having a veterinary program in the state of Arizona is fantastic,” Vest said. “And obviously for rural Arizona, if U of A can make this work — where there is an opportunity to partner with ranchers, with local vets and things like that up here in northeast Arizona — that’s a huge benefit. I would think, not just for U of A, because they’re getting students practical experience in the field, but it would be a huge benefit to people locally as well. We’re all for it.”

Future plans by the College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Arizona are unknown, as Funk and her staff continue to visit and survey veterinary needs and opportunities across rural areas of the state. The first graduates of the new College of Veterinary Medicine program are expected to graduate in 2023.

Amber Shepard is an local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.

Amber Shepard is an local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.

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