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Summer research opens doors for veterinary students

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 24, 2012 – Ten first- and second-year students at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine explored possible careers in research this summer thanks to a program that creates opportunities for students both during and after their professional training.

The 11-week Summer Veterinary Student Research Program covers the expenses for ten Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students — six sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and four sponsored by the Merial Veterinary Scholars Program — to conduct biomedical research with a faculty mentor and participate in weekly seminars on veterinary careers in research.

“This is our sixth year of funding from the National Institutes of Health,” said Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, director for the summer programs and head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. “Prior to the award of these grants, there were no formal training opportunities for DVM students to be exposed to biomedical research. I believe that this training opportunity for DVM students fits well with the ‘One Health’ approach to medicine that ensures a collaborative approach to the health of both people and animals.”

After a week of short courses on topics ranging from experimental design and analysis to research ethics, students participated in nine weeks of mentor-guided laboratory training. All trainees also traveled to the Merial-NIH National Veterinary Scholars Symposium at Colorado State University on Aug. 2-5.

“Our summer program has two unique features,” Ahmed said. “First, our close proximity to Washington, D.C., and the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at College Park, Md., has allowed the DVM summer scholars to visit the capital and meet veterinarians who have pursued advanced training for research and policy positions at NIH, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Second, in order to expose DVM students to diverse career opportunities, we organize Wednesday breakfasts with DVM scientists who come from federal agencies, medical schools, corporations, and academia and are excellent role models.”

The summer research program opens doors for participants to pursue other biomedical research opportunities. “We have an excellent track record with our summer training program,” Ahmed added. “Many of our former trainees are now in, or planning to enter, advanced training programs such as residencies or Ph.Ds. Many students comment that without this exposure to summer programs, they would not have thought of advanced training.”

In March, the college also received a five-year, $1 million NIH grant for another training program which seeks to address the shortage of veterinarians who conduct biomedical research, especially in the field of comparative medicine. Six graduate students who have already finished a DVM are working with Virginia Tech faculty mentors to complete a master’s degree or doctorate in biomedical and veterinary science. The training program also receives support from the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation.

“We are one of the select few colleges of veterinary medicine to secure three research training grants for veterinary students and graduates,” said Roger Avery, senior associate dean of research and graduate studies for the veterinary college. “These grants will not only equip our students with the fundamentals of hypothesis-driven, cutting-edge biomedical research but also encourage more veterinary students and clinicians to pursue careers in research.”

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is a leading biomedical teaching and research center, enrolling more than 700 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, master of public health, and biomedical and veterinary sciences graduate students. The college is a partnership between the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland. Its main campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, features the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and large animal field services which together treat more than 79,000 animals annually. Other locations include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia, and the Gudelsky Veterinary Center in College Park, Maryland.

Meet Jacob Cawley

    Jacob Cawley

Jacob Cawley of Newport, R.I., a third-year DVM student, completed the Summer Veterinary Student Research Program in 2011 and recently began the Medical Research Scholars Program.

This partnership between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Pfizer Inc. offers a year-long research experience in Bethesda, Md., for medical students.

“Each of us will interview researchers at NIH and pick a project that matches our interests,” Cawley said. “We will do our own research for a year and participate in weekly discussions to network with other researchers.”

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