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The 110 students of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s inaugural class began their school year with both virtual and in-person lessons.

The University of Arizona’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Oro Valley began classes this week with a hybrid schedule due to COVID-19. 

While many local schools are shifting entirely online for the semester, the very nature of veterinary medicine requires some lessons to take place in person. But with reduced group sizes, protective equipment provided and a back-up plan for virtual learning, students remained confident as they began the first-ever semester at the first public veterinary medicine program in Arizona.

“Our program has adopted a hybrid model like other Health Science programs across the University. We will be holding classes online that ensure equivalent academic outcomes and have planned in-person opportunities, with masks and physical distancing, for laboratory-based classes,” said school dean Julie Funk. 

With an unchanged academic calendar, the inaugural cohort of 110 students has been divided into smaller groups to ensure social distancing. The groups have specific days they will be on campus, and have been encouraged to monitor their health by using the Wildcat WellCheck before coming onto campus. Wildcat WellCheck is a screening system via text message that students and faculty answer before entering campus. The vet school, in alignment with central UA, has teams dedicated to preparing a safe reentry process for the students, staff and faculty.

“I think they’ve done a really good job being as open and transparent as possible with incoming students, especially with first-year students,” said vet school student Jasmine Worthy. “They’ve provided us with up-to-date information and have listened to students’ concerns. I know they also have a back-up plan in case things need to go completely online. They’re making sure the curriculum is flexible.” 

Despite the pandemic, Worthy says she’s excited to begin the school year, not only because of the educational opportunities, but because of the environment at the college. 

“I really enjoyed the interview process, because their questions included diversity and inclusion and implicit bias, and that showed me it’s an important aspect of the school. And since veterinary medicine isn’t very diverse, it showed me they actively want to contribute to equity within the field,” Worthy said. “It’s the first time I’ve experienced being in an environment where they’re thinking of these little aspects that can mean a lot for students.”

Worthy was also elected as Student Government President for the first cohort, a role she says is especially critical for a new school. 

“I wanted to make sure the incoming students of the class feel supported and aren’t afraid to ask questions or ask for help. I wanted to make sure this is a spot where they feel confident, and are a part of building this program,” Worthy said. “It being a new program, it’s more fluid compared to programs that have been established for a while. So I feel like there’s more of an open mind to trying out new things, especially when it comes to the programming.”

Of the 110 selected students, 26 are from UA and four are from Arizona State University, with dozens from other universities across the nation, including Washington State University, University of California Davis, Colorado State University, Texas A&M and Rutgers University.

The College of Veterinary Medicine has served as an economic boon for Oro Valley since its announcement. With this pandemic, the local business landscape is especially welcoming positive news from the college, which will be headquartered within the Foothills Business Park.

“It’s been a sort of isolating time for us, but I know a lot of people are affirmed by this,” said Dave Perry, president and CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce. “What really caught me were the number of relative applications to openings. That was an encouraging thing to me; we have five times as many applicants as we have open seats. I believe that demonstrates there’s a need for veterinary education, not just in Arizona but across the country.”

The curriculum is a three-year, accelerated program that is anticipated to prepare students “to be practice ready upon graduation” in 2023. During their third year, students will have access to normal and clinically diseased animals through a network of more than 250 clinical affiliates. As demand for practice-ready veterinarians around the country is increasing, the college anticipates having full cohorts every year.

“Having our students finally here and beginning their journey in veterinary medicine brings to fruition the years of work and planning in which so many people have played a role,” Funk said.