Vital Signs

February 2011


The place people want to be

Dear friends and colleagues,

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigTune in to the news, and you'll see - exciting things are happening at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. In the past two months, our college has launched a new regenerative medicine center in conjunction with Wake Forest University, completed interviews for the DVM Class of 2015 after experiencing a historic surge in admissions applications, and made key discoveries in the research of autoimmune diseases, such as lupus. And, of course, construction of our new Infectious Disease Research Facility and development of the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition in Blacksburg have rapidly advanced.

It's easy to see why more and better qualified students are competing to get into the program: we are a college "on the move," whose unbeatable faculty members are providing job-ready training for future generations of veterinarians. How do I know that our alumni are more "job-ready" than their counterparts from other colleges of veterinary medicine? Besides the constant positive feedback we receive from practicing veterinarians who graduated from the college, just look at the numbers. Last December, 85 of our graduating students took the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, a requirement for licensure to practice veterinary medicine in North America. Of the VMRCVM students taking the exam, 99% passed on the first round, which is higher than the national average. Congratulations!

Our ongoing success also comes from our academic investment in innovations. Our interview process for incoming students and the tracking curriculum that guides these students continue to pay rewards. In March, our college will participate in discussions at the annual conference of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. We will again share what we have learned with the larger veterinary community. But these conversations are always a two-way street. We look forward to learning the strategies of other colleges of veterinary medicine and applying these best practices to the education of future classes of our students.

One of the things I enjoy the most in my role as Dean is meeting with our alumni, who have moved from Blacksburg but are still connected to one another by their profession and by the VMRCVM experience. I thank all of our alumni who joined us at our events at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando in January, the Western Veterinary Conference in Last Vegas, and the Virginia Veterinary Conference in Roanoke earlier this month. As the days get longer and the temperature warmer, I look forward to another season of working together with you.

As always, I look forward to hearing your feedback and input.

Best regards,

Gerhardt G. Schurig, DVM, Ph.D.
Dean
 

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In This Issue

 

 

Featured Stories


VMRCVM experiences surge in applications, utilizes innovative interview process

Decisions have been made, phones have been called, and letters have been mailed. Aspiring veterinarians have learned whether or not they made the cut for the VMRCVM class of 2015 in what has been one of the most competitive application periods in the college's history.

VMRCVM academic counseling

Dr. Jacque Pelzer, left, director of admissions and student services at the VMRCVM, provides academic counseling to Lauren Trager, right, a first-year DVM student at the college. The college has concluded the application process for the DVM class of 2015, which was one of the most competitive application periods in the college's history.

Applications to the college's Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree program increased 11 percent this year over last year, a historic surge for the college that bucks decreasing admissions applicant numbers at some of the nation's 28 accredited veterinary programs.

Leaders at the veterinary college attribute the against-trend application increase to enhanced visibility of the college, awareness of the value and quality of the program by applicants, and the college's increasing role in global veterinary research.

"Applicants, especially those from Virginia and Maryland, are increasingly attuned to the fact that our college provides training on par with top-tier veterinary colleges and, in many cases, at a much better value," said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the college.

In total, the college will enroll 95 incoming students this fall. Broken down, 50 of those students will be residents of Virginia, 30 from Maryland, and 15 from other states and countries.

Prospective students competing to fill both in-state and out-of-state slots increased in numbers this year, said Dr. Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs.

"Individuals from across the United States and from other continents are looking at the college as a first choice in their application process," Hodgson said. "We are recognized by these applicants for our progressive tradition of providing ahead-of-the-curve curriculum and job-ready training."

The application process for the aspiring veterinarians began one year ago, when admissions counseling was offered to interested students. Applications were due to the college in October, and admissions interviews were conducted in late January in Blacksburg, Va.

For the second year, the veterinary college utilized the innovative multiple mini interview format for admissions interviews, a format developed at McMaster's Medical School in Canada to assess a candidate's non-cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and self awareness. These skills have been identified as important for students to possess in order to be successful during the professional program as well as post-graduation.

During the admissions interviews - the scores from which were used as a determining factor in the application process - applicants were interviewed by faculty members, alumni, practicing veterinarians, and others involved in veterinary education. All interviewees participated in eight scenarios, which lasted six minutes each, and had the students rotating through interview rooms for evaluation of their skill in responding to these scenarios.

"It's extremely important for us to evaluate these skills that the veterinary profession and global stakeholders have identified as crucial for veterinarians," said Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services at the college.

The final decision on whether or not to enroll at the college is now in the hands of the accepted applicants. Active recruitment for the college's DVM class of 2016, which will be comprised of 120 students, will begin this summer.

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Size of airborne flu virus impacts risk, researchers say

Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah

Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, assistant professor of virology in the VMRCVM's Department of Biomedical Sciences & Pathobiology, was part of a team of Virginia Tech researchers that recently published research on the risk of airborne infection in public places in the United Kingdom's Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, a virologist in the VMRCVM Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and Dr. Linsey Marr, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, recently published research on the risk of airborne infection in public places in the United Kingdom's Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Media from around the globe, including The Times of India and publications in the U.K., reported on the research.

Subbiah, Marr, and Wan Yang, conducted their research in a health center, a daycare facility, and onboard airplanes.

"The relative importance of the airborne route in influenza transmission—in which tiny respiratory droplets from infected individuals are inhaled by others—is not known," Marr, who received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award to pinpoint sources of unhealthy air pollutants, said.

What is known is that influenza A viruses are "transmitted through direct contact, indirect contact, large respiratory droplets, and aerosols that are left behind by the evaporation of larger droplets," they reported in the journal. "The aerosol transmission route is particularly controversial since there is scant proof of infection mediated by virus-laden aerosols, partly due to the difficulties in studies involving human subjects and partly due to the challenges in detecting influenza A viruses in ambient air."

What happens is an infected person might cough or sneeze or just be engaged in conversation, and release the viruses into the air. However, these aerosols are quickly diluted to very low concentrations by the surrounding air.

To conduct their studies, the researchers collected samples from a waiting room of a health care center, two toddlers' rooms and one babies' area of a daycare center, as well as three cross-country flights between Roanoke, Va., and San Francisco, Ca.

Subbiah indicated that most studies of airborne transmission of influenza viruses in animals examined the ability of infected animals to transmit the infection to susceptible in-contact animals. How the ambient environment affects the virus after release from the infected host until it reaches the recipient host is relatively unknown. Results of the study show that under defined conditions of humidity and temperature, viruses may remain suspended in air.

Incorporating the concentrations of influenza A viruses and breathing rates, Marr and her colleagues estimated the inhalation dose incurred by someone in the same room and concluded that it was sufficient to induce infection.

"As a whole," the three authors concluded in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, " our results provide quantitative support for the possibility of airborne transmission of influenza in indoor environments."


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College works with FBI, NATO on agroterrorism issues

Dr. Bill Pierson and Dr. Gary Vroegindewey

Dr. Bill Pierson (left), associate professor of avian medicine, biosecurity and infection control, and director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and Dr. Gary Vroegindewey (right), director of global health initiatives at VMRCVM's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in College Park, Md., recently presented on agroterrorism at conferences attended by state and federal law enforcement and defense officials.

VMRCVM has been working closely with law enforcement and defense officials on key agroterrorism issues, utilizing unique faculty experience in the field to educate the FBI, NATO, and other groups about potential threats related to animal health at two separate conferences this month.

The college co-sponsored the Virginia Agroterrorism Conference, presented by the FBI and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, at the Inn at Virginia Tech on Feb. 4. The conference was attended by individuals working in law enforcement and agricultural fields and included presentations on subjects ranging from animal health capabilities to terrorist profiles.

Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the teaching hospital, gave the presentation "Addressing Vulnerabilities in the Food Transportation Sector." According to Matthew J. Lohr, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Pierson reminded attendees that "food at rest is food at risk." Furthermore, "Pierson added that many facilities need to do more to prevent the intentional introduction of biological or chemical agents by enhancing physical security and knowing more about the background of their employees."

The conference also included a special award presentation from the college to Dr. Donald W. Butts, Chief of the Office of Emergency Management in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and former State Veterinarian for Virginia. "Dr. Butts was crucial in helping enhance the VMRCVM's role in animal emergency preparedness and response, and he has been a strong ally to veterinary medical education," said Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig dean of the college.

Outside of Virginia, the college has been collaborating with international audiences on key agroterrorism issues.

Dr. Gary Vroegindewey, director of global health initiatives at VMRCVM's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in College Park, Md., presented on agroterrorism at the NATO Weapons of Mass Destruction Forensics Conference in Prague on Feb. 2. The audience included participants from White House National Security Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, senior NATO representatives, United Nations, INTERPOL, FBI Forensics Lab, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others with WMD deterrence and response roles.

In his presentation, Vroegindewey emphasized the role of agriculture as part of the U.S. Critical Infrastructure network and discussed the potential devastating impacts of an agricultural terror event. "Agriculture is a bedrock of our American society and economy and we must be proactive to protect the health and economic prosperity of our nation," he said.

Vroegindewey, who joined the VMRCVM faculty last year, previously served as former director of the U.S. Department of Defense Veterinary Service Activity and assistant chief in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.

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College expands continuing education opportunities

Dr. Kevin Pelzer

Dr. Kevin Pelzer, professor of production management medicine in the VMRCVM's Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, is one of the college's faculty members who have recently provided continuing education.

Over the past few months, VMRCVM has provided speakers for continuing education programs throughout Virginia and West Virginia. The college provides speakers at no cost in both small and large animal disciplines, often with the assistance of corporate sponsors.

Continuing education is a crucial part of the VMRCVM mission, offering short courses and wet labs at the main campus in Blacksburg. Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the college, continues to explore ways to re-engage the college with practitioners throughout the region and to expand these opportunities.

Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the teaching hospital, views the college's continuing education program "as a means to strengthen our partnership with practitioners across the region." Dr. Frank Pearsall, director of development, encourages outreach beyond the immediate referral area to enhance relevance of the college to practitioners statewide.

Local veterinary medical associations and the VMRCVM Alumni Society often partner with the college to maximize attendance and promote the program.

Based on initial success, the VMRCVM continues to provide continuing education to the region and aims to expand the program to Winchester, Fairfax, Richmond, and the Tidewater area.

Learn more about continuing education opportunities.

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Development news: Why your introductions matter

The college has recently documented a handsome estate bequest to support DVM students as a memorial to a deceased parent. This was made possible by a recommendation from one of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's most loyal referring veterinarians, Dr. Bill Reynolds of Princeton, WV. When one of his long-time clients, Melinda Wyrick, told him that she was working on her estate plans and wanted to do something to help animals, he recommended the college. Subsequently, he set up a meeting with Dr. Frank Pearsall and introduced them so they could discuss options and work out a plan to honor her father, Rudolph F. Wyrick. Recommendations and introductions such as this are of invaluable help in bringing together animal lovers and the college, and we thank Dr. Reynolds heartily.

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Welcome to the College


Dr. Rebecca Ann Funk joins equine field service team

Dr. Rebecca Ann Funk

Dr. Rebecca Ann Funk has joined VMRCVM as a clinical assistant professor of equine field service in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Dr. Rebecca Ann Funk has joined VMRCVM as a clinical assistant professor of equine field service in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Funk comes to the college from Auburn University, where she completed her residency at the JT Vaughn Large Animal Teaching Hospital. While there, Funk managed cases in equine medicine and ophthalmology, performed examinations, consulted with veterinarians on case management, and taught and mentored students.

"We are delighted to have Dr. Funk join our team in Equine Field Services at the VMRCVM," said Dr. David Hodgson, head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. "Becky comes to us following completion of a highly successful residency at Auburn University. Having worked with horses all her life, she brings academic acumen combined with great practicality to the group. I am sure she will be a great asset to the college."

Her new position is service-oriented and will focus primarily on the management of patients and clients in the equine field service section of the college. She will also participate in clinical courses offered to professional students.

Funk received her master of science degree in biomedical sciences from Auburn University in 2010. She completed her doctor of veterinary medicine degree at Oklahoma State University and bachelor of arts at Hendrix College.

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Dr. Jennifer L. Johnson-Neitman joins college as assistant professor of radiology

Dr. Jennifer L. Johnson-Neitman

Dr. Jennifer L. Johnson-Neitman has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of radiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Dr. Jennifer L. Johnson-Neitman has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of radiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Johnson-Neitman comes to the college from Kansas State University, where she completed her residency in diagnostic imaging and radiology. She previously served as a clinical instructor at both Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University, teaching lectures and laboratories in radiology and anatomy.

Johnson-Neitman began her work with the college as an assistant professor of radiology last November.

"Dr. Johnson-Neitman fills an important role in radiology and we are happy to have her on board," said Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

In her new role, Johnson-Neitman provides educational training in diagnostic imaging. Additionally, she offers clinical supervision and instruction to professional students in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She is an active participant in both independent and collaborative, translational research.

Johnson-Neitman received her bachelor's degree in animal science and doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Oklahoma State University. She fulfilled a diagnostic imaging fellowship and internship at Oklahoma State University as well.

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Dr. Maria Killos joins college as assistant professor of anesthesiology

Dr. Maria Killos

Dr. Maria Killos has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of anesthesiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Dr. Maria Killos has joined VMRCVM as an assistant professor of anesthesiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Killos comes to the college from the University of Minnesota, where she served as an instructor of comparative anesthesiology for the last two years. She also taught and supervised both technicians and students on proper administration of anesthesia.

"We are thrilled to have Dr. Killos join our faculty," said Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. "She brings exceptional experience in anesthesiology to our team."

Killos' new position will involve the clinical care of patients in both the small and large animal hospitals. She will participate in teaching clinical rotations and lectures and will be actively involved in veterinary research.

Killos is a 2009 diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists. She completed her residency in comparative anesthesiology at the University of Minnesota in 2008.

She received both her master of science and doctor of veterinary medicine degrees from the University of Minnesota. She completed her bachelor's degree in management science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Scenes from the college

Veterinary students received instruction from faculty on providing dental care to the VMRCVM horses on Thursday, Feb. 24. Join us on Facebook to see more photos of the VMRCVM community.

equine dental equine dental equine dental

View the full photo gallery.

 


International Outreach Spotlight


College provides technical assistance in Armenia

Dr. Valerie Ragan and a colleague in Armenia

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the college's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine (right), met with a veterinary colleague during a recent trip to Armenia.

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the college's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine (CPCVM), recently traveled to Armenia as part of a new agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA,FAS). Under the agreement, the college will work with the USDA, FAS, Office of Capacity Building and Development to provide technical assistance to the USDA Caucasus Animal Health Programs with an emphasis on work in Armenia and the Republic of Georgia.

The Ministry of Agriculture in Armenia has asked USDA to collaborate on developing a work plan for future animal health activities, and the USDA provided a grant to the CPCVM to revise an existing animal health work plan taking into consideration new information about animal health conditions in Armenia. Armenia was a former republic of the Soviet Union and gained independence in 1991.

USDA has proposed working with the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture to enhance and further develop a comprehensive animal health program in Armenia. The aim of plan for Armenia is to assist the country in developing an effective framework for managing any livestock disease of concern. There has been recent concern in Armenia about incursions of African Swine Fever, threats of Foot and Mouth Disease, concerns with brucellosis in the country and the desire to improve opportunities for export. The end result of the effort as proposed will be a more effective government and veterinary infrastructure for monitoring and controlling animal diseases that impact the health and productivity of livestock and human health.

Click the map to learn more about VMRCVM international outreach.

While in Armenia, Ragan and USDA, FAS officials met with the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, as well as with officials from the Armenia Ministry of Agriculture, including the Deputy Minister and the Chief Veterinary Officer. They also met with officials from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and a few days were spent in the field working with Armenian veterinarians.

Ragan previously worked in Armenia for several years prior to joining VMRCVM. She is planning to use the college's involvement in Armenia as a learning opportunity for students working in public and corporate veterinary medicine to potentially see livestock diseases they may not see in the United States and to learn about the interactions between the United States and foreign ministries of agriculture and the importance of those interactions.

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