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Training the Veterinary Researchers of Our Future

Two reports from the National Research Council entitled ‘National Needs and Priorities for Veterinarians in Biomedical Research’ and ‘Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science’ carefully document the growing deficit of veterinary researchers in the face of increasing national need and demand from academia and industry.

This need arises from an awareness that veterinarians are uniquely qualified to participate in research involving animals. Through their clinical training, veterinarians have an appreciation for the animal as a whole. Veterinarians also appreciate common themes that transcend the numerous species they encounter clinically and they embrace the ‘One Health’ concept with a unique perspective of the animal-human-environmental health interface.

The College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is committed to addressing the growing need for veterinarians trained in biomedical research and the shift in emphasis toward multidisciplinary approaches to translate advances in research to the clinical setting. This commitment is evidenced by the spectrum of research training opportunities available to pre- and post-DVM students.

The College has a four-faceted approach to advancing research training for veterinarians that are brought together under the Clinician Scientist Training Programs (CSTP) umbrella. The purpose of the CSTP is to increase the visibility and development of the individual programs. As  director, I oversee and market the programs, recruit and serve as an advocate for trainees, coordinate clinical and research training , and expand fund raising through grant writing and development efforts.

The first of the four programs is the Veterinary Scholars Program which offers a summer research internship for first and second year veterinary students to work with a faculty mentor in a lab setting. This program provides a “taste” of veterinary research for those students without significant prior experience. There are more than 150 alumni of this program in the past five years alone. Many seek additional clinical or research training. Others take a deeper understanding of veterinary research into their private practice careers and incorporate these principles into the care of their patients. Many sources provide funds to support this program including the Fund for Discovery, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, the CVM, the Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research (CCMTR), a grant from Merial Inc, and many individual faculty members.

The second is the newly created, research-intensive Clinician Scientist focus area for veterinary students who wish to incorporate significant research into their DVM degree program. This program allows time in the summers and the senior clinical year to work extensively in a lab and offers courses during selective periods to provide exposure to the fundamental principles of research for veterinarians.

The third is a combined DVM/PhD training program. This program provides students who know they want to incorporate research training into their veterinary education with a program that blends clinical and research training. The DVM/PhD program provides financial support to attract talented students to enrich our pool of trainees, integrates research and clinical training to produce better clinician scientists, and reduces the time required to complete both degrees. Several students currently enrolled in the program are alumni of the Veterinary Scholars Program, which inspired them to consider combining clinical and research training. Program funding comes primarily from the CVM. A new program partners the NC State CVM and the University of North Carolina Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Combined DVM/PhD and MD/PhD students will train side by side, integrating basic laboratory and population science methodologies in an interdisciplinary program aligned with the ‘One Health’ concept and addressing issues involving humans and animals. The first of its kind, the program will erase the boundaries between disciplines. A proposal to fund the novel program has been submitted to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

The fourth is a Comparative Medicine and Translational Research Training Program (CMTRTP) for post-residency veterinary specialists who seek intensive training in basic comparative biomedical and translational research. Based in the CCMTR, the program’s mission is to train the next generation of veterinary clinician scientists by providing exceptional research training with educational and professional development opportunities. To date, the CMTRTP provided PhD training for 12 designated trainees and supported training for 10 additional CMTRTP affiliated trainees. Most trainees who complete the program are teaching and performing high impact research in veterinary schools across the nation and throughout the world. Program funding comes from a major NIH grant, NC State matching funds, the CVM, the CCMTR, and numerous individual grants and fellowships.

As noted , the need for excellence in veterinary research has been documented and the CVM  Clinician Scientist Training Programs are responding.

Dr. Sam Jones, a professor of equine medicine, is a recipient of the Herbert Benjamin Distinguished Professorship and director the Comparative Biomedical Sciences Program and the Combined DVM/PhD Program, and is co-director of the Veterinary Scholars Program.