Vital Signs: February 2016 Vol. 5, Issue 2

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

The veterinary education market

Dear friends and colleagues,

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is well into the annual admissions cycle and is waiting on responses to letters of offer sent to selected candidates. The college received 1,400 applications and invited 336 candidates for campus interviews last month. Considering that we only have 120 available slots in the incoming class, fewer than 10 percent of prospective students will join the Class of 2020. For the second year in a row, the college ranked second in the nation in the number of applications received.

While our application numbers have continued an upward trend, the number of applicants nationwide has remained steady in recent years. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2015 Report on the Market for Veterinary Education, there are approximately 1.6 applicants for every available seat nationally. Even though the number of available seats has increased nationally in recent years, the quality of the admitted applicants has not gone down. In fact, the average GPA for admitted applicants has remained over 3.5 for more than a decade. The report also found that these students begin the application process with more course work and hours of experience than in years past. Nationally, would-be veterinary students in last year’s class reported an average of 2,200 veterinary hours and almost 500 research hours on their applications.

In recent years, the AVMA’s economics division has produced annual reports addressing not just the veterinary education market, but also the veterinary employment and services markets. Last year, these reports indicated that the market for near- and long-term employment is improving in the veterinary profession and that the unemployment and underemployment rates are well below the national averages. According to one of these reports, the veterinary profession had room to grow by as many as 951 full-time veterinarians. In addition, nearly 20 percent of dogs and 40 percent of cats do not see a veterinarian every year, meaning that the supply of veterinary services still has room to expand to meet the healthcare needs of our companion animals.

It is clear from admissions trends that our profession still enjoys strong interest as a career option and that our students and new graduates are extraordinarily accomplished and capable. We are pleased also that professional employment opportunities have improved since the recent economic recession and we look forward to further evolution of veterinary practice as we adapt to changes in animal healthcare needs and opportunities to expand our services to society, including those that go beyond private clinical practice.

To address these needs and opportunities, our veterinary college is providing our students a world-class education so that they can enter the workforce and advance our profession in areas such as private practice, public and corporate veterinary medicine, biomedical research, and zoonotic disease prevention. Our recent admissions success speaks to our reputation among prospective students as well as outstanding recruitment efforts and the commitment of our faculty, staff, and students to a high-quality education.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

During their campus interviews, prospective veterinary students rotate through interview rooms where an interviewer evaluates their responses to scenarios dealing with communication, decision making, diversity, and other topics.

College again draws second largest number of prospective students in North America

Prospective students who want to pursue their dreams of becoming veterinarians at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine must first overcome a major hurdle: standing out among the second largest applicant pool in North America.

For the second year in a row, the latest figures from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges place the college in the No. 2 spot among North American veterinary schools, beating all but Colorado State University. The college received more than 1,400 applications for its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program and offered campus interviews to 336 candidates for 120 available seats.

“We recently sent offer letters to those individuals who rose to the top of another highly competitive application process,” said Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services. “During this application period, we not only received a large number of total applications, but also an increasing number of applicants from underrepresented populations.”

This year, less than 10 percent of applicants for the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program will join the college’s Class of 2020 following increasingly competitive application periods. The college also had the second largest applicant pool in 2015, the third largest in 2014, and the fourth largest in 2013.

Read more about the college’s highly competitive admissions.

Adam Rogers, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, is creating a new vaccine against porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

Scientist to develop new vaccine against virus responsible for millions of pig deaths

In 2013, a sample from a pig in Indiana tested positive for porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, the first discovery of the virus in North America. Today, it has spread to 32 states — including Virginia — and resulted in at least 10 million piglet deaths, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A researcher in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, is hoping to create a more effective vaccine against this newly emergent but economically devastating virus plaguing the U.S. pork industry. Adam Rogers, a postdoctoral associate in University Distinguished Professor X.J. Meng’s laboratory, has received a two-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to take the first steps toward a new vaccine.

“The process starts in the laboratory here using molecular techniques to make genetic changes to the virus and test it in small-scale tissue cultures in the laboratory. If we find a mutation or mutations that will make the virus non-pathogenic, then we will move onto an animal test,” said Rogers, who earned a Ph.D. in microbiology and virology at the University of Nebraska before coming to Virginia Tech in 2013. “We are starting with the emergent American strain of the virus so that we will end up designing a vaccine specifically targeted to control the disease here.”

Read more about Rogers’ vaccine development efforts.

As part of her internship with AHA, Brown attended early promotional events for the movie Max, posing here with Dude, one of the six dogs used in making the film.

Student monitors animal involvement in films through summer internship

The words “No animals were harmed…” are such a common part of end credits that film and TV viewers have come to expect them. A student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine now has an insider’s view into how these words ultimately arrive at the end of movies and shows.

After learning of the American Humane Association’s Film and T.V. Unit’s summer internship program through her film studies minor at Pennsylvania State University, Morgan Brown immediately started seeking the right person to put her in contact with the program’s director. That person turned out to be Valerie Ragan, director of the veterinary college’s Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. Ragan got Brown in touch with American Veterinary Medical Association director of animal welfare Gail Golab, who secured her an interview with Kwane Stewart, the internship program’s director.

Brown explained, “I told him how I was interested in the organization and asked him if I could come work for the summer.” The director agreed and Brown, then a first-year student at the college, spent her summer assisting the organization in Los Angeles, California.

Now a second-year student at the veterinary college, Brown hoped the internship “would be the perfect blend of the two things I love,” she explained.

Read more about Brown’s summer internship with the American Humane Association.

A feline patient at the Small Animal Community Practice enjoys a nail trim thanks to squeeze cheese.

Community practice clinician offers tips for happy vet visits

Michael Nappier has some advice for veterinary practices that want to improve their patient experiences through positive reinforcement — and he should know. Nappier, an assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, has not only seen hundreds of patients in the teaching hospital’s Small Animal Community Practice but also helped the practice earn a Cat Friendly Practice certification at the silver level.

“Yes, cats will eat in your clinic,” Nappier wrote in a recent column for Veterinary Economics. “Forget the stale crunchy treats and offer them something higher value. Canned cat food, tuna, baby food and squeeze cheese all work well.”

He also recommended that practice owners don’t forget snacks for their clients. “There is no more popular place in the lobby than the coffee maker,” he said. “You don’t have to stop there though. Water, soda and even some baked goods or snacks provide that little bit of extra reinforcement that your practice is something special.”

Read Nappier’s full advice column.

Skippy, a 15-year-old palomino/paint gelding, was treated successfully for a sinus polyp at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Skippy’s health restored after successful surgery at Equine Medical Center

When Karen Maskew’s veterinarian asked her to adopt a 15-year-old gelding from a family who could no longer care for him, she happily agreed. But when she met Skippy, both she and her veterinarian were surprised to see a large mass on his left nostril.

Maskew immediately took Skippy to her local veterinarians at Paradocs Animal Hospital in Locust Grove, Virginia, who were able to determine that the mass was not cancerous but could offer no conclusive information about what it was. After the problem worsened, Maskew reached out to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) in Leesburg, Virginia, where James Brown, clinical assistant professor of equine surgery, surmised that Skippy had a sinus polyp. Maskew coordinated with her local veterinarian to make an appointment at the EMC with Brown and equine intern Laia Reig.

“When the surgery was over, Dr. Brown called me right away to relay that it was successful, appeared to have removed all of the polyp, and that Skippy was resting comfortably, had a healthy appetite, and seemed much relieved to have had the mass removed,” Maskew said. “Skippy remained overnight for observation, and was cleared for return home the next day.”

The surgery, which relieved Skippy’s discomfort and restored his health, would not have been possible without support from the EMC’s compassionate care fund.

Read more about Skippy's treatment at the center.

Held with support from the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association and other student organizations, the college's Open House features a variety of exhibits, demonstrations, and public tours of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Annual Open House set for April 9

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine will open its doors to the public during an Annual Open House on Saturday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors will have a chance to learn about veterinary medicine and the college through tours, demonstrations, and lectures.

The Open House will take place on the veterinary college’s Blacksburg campus, located at 245 Duck Pond Drive, and will feature guided tours of its 270,000-square-foot complex, which includes the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition. It is free and open to the public.

The family-friendly event will also feature activities designed expressly for children such as face painting, a wildlife exhibit, an anatomy lesson with a painted horse, and a demonstration on how to safely approach and interact with dogs. Third-year students will also help “surgically repair” any stuffed animals that children bring to the Open House during a Teddy Bear Repair Clinic.

Focus on Faculty: Julia Gohlke

Julia M. Gohlke

Julia M. Gohlke is an assistant professor of environmental health in the Department of Population Health Sciences. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Michigan and completed both a master’s degree and doctorate in environmental health from the University of Washington. Gohlke joined the college in 2015 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health and is a member of the Society for Toxicology and Teratology Society.


I grew up outside of Milton, West Virginia. I’ve lived in different parts of the U.S. since then—Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, Chapel Hill, Washington D.C., and Birmingham. I’m happy to be closer to home now!

What are your current responsibilities at the college? If you teach, what do you teach?

I am in the Department of Population Health Sciences and am part of the Master of Public Health (MPH) faculty with research, teaching, and service responsibilities. I teach Environmental Health, which is a core course for MPH students.

Read the full Q&A with Julia Gohlke.

Alumni Corner

After Michael Davis completed a master’s degree at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995, he investigated ski asthma and then gastric ulcers in sled racing dogs for his Ph.D. research at Johns Hopkins University.

Exercise physiologist Michael Davis (MS ’95) draws from experience with sled racing dogs

While studying ski asthma, an asthma-like disease common in elite winter athletes, as part of his Ph.D. research at Johns Hopkins University, Michael Davis approached the Iditarod head veterinarian for a possible collaboration opportunity. Davis hoped that the Iditarod, a 1,000-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, would provide a unique opportunity to study this phenomenon in sled dogs.

The Iditarod veterinarians, Davis explained, “recognized an opportunity to address a major problem of their own—the fact that the leading cause of death [in the dogs] was gastric ulcers or something related to that.” He continued, “it turned out that while the dogs were not a great model for ski asthma, the gastric ulcer issue was much more prominent. So, the Iditarod work shifted to finding a solution to the gastric ulcer problem.”

Davis, who completed his master’s degree in veterinary medicine from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995, and his team solved the gastric ulcer problem and shifted their focus to metabolic work. “We still use the same canine athletes,” he said, “but the type of basic metabolism work that is currently our focus needs a greater degree of experimental control than what is possible in the context of a race.”

Learn more about Michael Davis and his research on what makes sled dogs resilient.

Around the College

Veterinary Teaching Hospital keeps doors open for emergencies during winter storms

When winter weather closes Virginia Tech, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital continues to operate for emergency cases. Recently, two winter storms have given numerous hospital employees and fourth-year students on rotation an opportunity to show their commitment to keeping the hospital open and accessible and helping animals in need. During Winter Storm Jonas in January, for example, fourth-year student Garett Compton helped with emergencies while Andrea Collins, ICU manager, and Katie Reuss, large animal acting supervisor, helped to oversee the staffing in their areas. Hospital staff members Karen Hall and Sharon Dunn helped by plowing the snow to assist the campus group in maintaining access. Many others provided support and a helping hand during the university’s snow days in January and February.

Beef Cattle Health Conference sets another attendance record

The Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference once again set an attendance record with more than 300 cattle producers and veterinary students participating in lectures and demonstrations on Saturday, Jan. 30. Co-sponsored by the veterinary college and Virginia Cooperative Extension, the day-long conference featured special guest Tom Noffsinger, a veterinarian best known for his passion for working with feed yards and ranches on low-stress cattle handling. Following morning lectures at Litton-Reaves Hall, participants traveled to the Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena on campus for a low-stress handling demonstration. View a Facebook photo gallery from the 2016 conference.

College connects with alumni at North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando

The veterinary college had a presence at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando last month. The college’s exhibit booth attracted numerous visitors, including more than 30 alumni, who were interested in learning more about the college and its programs. Congratulations are in order for Tara Hickman (DVM ’08), who was the lucky recipient out of over 300 entries for a Fitbit.

Koda, Esme, and Tucker continue progress in Puppy University training

The charter class of puppies in the college’s new puppy raiser program are continuing to learn important life skills during their time at the veterinary college. Recently, Koda, Esme, and Tucker — and their raisers — completed a bimonthly training with trainers at Saint Francis Service Dogs of Roanoke to assess their progress in Puppy University. Over the past four months, the puppies have not only grown in size but also learned physical and social skills. The program provides veterinary students at the college and undergraduate work study students at Virginia Tech with experiential learning opportunities. Watch a WSLS Channel 10 news report about Puppy University.

Awards & Activities

TRACKS magazine merit award certificate

TRACKS magazine wins CASE District III special merit award

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Southeast District III awarded the college’s Office of Public Relations and Communications a special merit award in the print and digital publications low-budget category for its TRACKS magazine. Megan Quesenberry, graphic designer, accepted the award at the CASE 2015-16 Advancement Awards in Nashville, Tennessee earlier this month.

The award recognized the office’s efforts to develop the magazine’s visual identity and feature faculty research, student achievement, and hospital success stories. In addition to Quesenberry, award winners include Alison Elward, assistant director for interactive media; Jesse Janowiak, former web developer; Michael Sutphin, public relations coordinator; and Sherrie Whaley, former director of communications.

Last November, TRACKS magazine also received a gold award in the modest budget category from the Public Relations Society of America’s Blue Ridge Chapter.

Dean Cyril Clarke with Allison Gallimore

Allison Gallimore named February Staff Member of the Month

Allison Gallimore, a fiscal technician in the business office since 2007, is a valuable resource for other employees at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and Roanoke office. Her nominator said, “When she is training new employees, she makes sure they understand all of the intricacies of the different types of packages and how they are billed. She is always willing to assist clients or co-workers in any area needed. Her knowledge and recollection of how unusual cases have been managed in the past to ensure consistency and adherence to policy is extremely helpful.”

Her co-workers also describe her as a team player in all areas. Her nominator described how “I have frequently seen her assist at the front desk in the mornings when they are short staffed. She is always eager to jump in and assist wherever there is a need.” Allison also helps with the accounts payable duties of the office and when the bookkeeper is out, she will immediately take over and make sure all orders and payments are quickly processed.

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Accolades

Heidi Garman, first-year veterinary student, co-authored a paper in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of Insect Molecular Biology. The paper was entitled “Comparison of synganglion neuropeptides, neuropeptide receptors and neurotransmitter receptors and their gene expression in response to feeding in Ixodes scapularis (Ixodidae) vs. Ornithodoros turicata (Argasidae).”

Julia Gohlke, assistant professor of environmental health in the Department of Population Health Sciences, and her colleagues won the first prize in Climate Change and Environmental Exposures Challenge presented by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The team received a $10,000 award for the Web app “PIE Viz: Populations, Infrastructures, and Exposures Visualization Tool.” The others on the project included Samarth Swarup, assistant research professor at the Biocomplexity Institute at Virginia Tech, and Dawen Xie, senior software engineer.

Tom Inzana, the Tyler J. and Frances F. Young Chair of Bacteriology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, gave an oral presentation at the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases in Chicago on Briana Petruzzi’s project on “Pasteurella multocida biofilm formation and polymicrobial biofilm formation with Histophilus somni.”

Donna McWilliams (DVM ’02), owner of My Pet’s Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida, recently won first place in the 2016 Small Business of the Year award in the Bright House Regional Business Award – Tampa Bay Area. The award recognizes achievement in the areas of innovation, community service, and company growth and stability.

Bill Pierson, professor of biosecurity and infection control in the Department of Population Health Sciences, was recently awarded $125,000 from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to facilitate a revision of the Virginia Administrative Code as it refers to the management of regulated medical waste. The purpose of the project is to update and strengthen the language of the code so that the agency has the flexibility and operational authority to deal with emerging or unforeseen biological threats in the commonwealth, thus protecting the health of its citizens and agricultural industries.

The University of Maryland’s poultry extension team recently released the final versions of its avian influenza biosecurity videos for commercial poultry farmers, technical service personnel, and backyard poultry producers. Nathaniel Tablante, associate professor and Extension poultry veterinarian at the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Sciences, helped to produce the videos with funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Smith-Lever Special Needs grant entitled “Preventing Outbreaks of Avian Influenza Through Timely Dissemination of Credible Science-Based Information.”

Michelle Theus, assistant professor of molecular and cellular neurobiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received a five-year, $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study “Mechanisms Regulating Cerebral Arteriogenesis and Neurorestoration.” The research team also includes John Chappell, assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, and Hehuang Xie, research associate professor at the Biocomplexity Institute at Virginia Tech.

Upcoming Events

February 25-27, 20162016 Virginia Veterinary Conference
Roanoke, VA
March 4-5, 20162016 AAVMC Annual Conference
Washington, D.C.
March 8, 2016Equine Medical Center Tuesday Talk: "Colic: What's New?"
Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center — Leesburg, VA
April 8, 2016 — 2016 DVM Spring Awards Ceremony and Luncheon
The Inn at Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
April 9, 2016VA-MD Vet Med Open House
VA-MD Vet Med Main Campus — Blacksburg, VA
May 13, 2016Spring 2016 Commencement Ceremonies
Virginia Tech Campus — Blacksburg, VA


Vital Signs is published throughout the year by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • Dean: Cyril R. Clarke
  • Produced By: Office of Public Relations and Communications
  • Managing Editor: Michael Sutphin
  • Assistant Editor: Kelsey Foster
  • Web Editor: Alison Elward
  • Contributors: Alison Elward, Kelsey Foster, Michael Sutphin
  • Photography: Alison Elward, Kelsey Foster, Ivan Morozov, Megan Quesenberry, Michael Sutphin, Logan Wallace, Sherrie Whaley
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