Although most veterinarians pursue careers in private clinical practice, nearly 25 percent of the nation’s vets are working for government, private industry, international organizations, or nonprofits. The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has redesigned and expanded its public and corporate veterinary medicine curriculum to better prepare students for these careers.

New this spring, the third-year course “Problem Solving in Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine” provides students with an opportunity to test their abilities against actual case studies. All students who are pursing the public and corporate veterinary medicine track — one of five tracks that provide instruction on an area of interest in addition to the core curriculum — take this course.

“The ‘Problem Solving’ course exposes students to real problems that veterinarians in public practice must solve,” said Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. “For example, we present our students with a case involving an extensive brucellosis outbreak at a dairy. After a virtual visual tour of the facilities, they must develop a herd management plan designed to eliminate the disease from the herd and prevent human infection. We then compare their management plans with the actual approach used in the situation in question.”

According to Ragan, these case studies demonstrate veterinary medicine’s complex role in addressing issues such as animal and public health, food safety and security, and biomedical research. For example, one of the case studies presents a situation at Yellowstone National Park. The location not only adds a multi-agency federal and state regulatory aspect to the mix but also introduces the possibility of intervention from animal rights groups.

The center added the new course to the curriculum after Ragan surveyed the veterinary college’s alumni who had completed the track in public and corporate veterinary medicine and identified ways to match the curriculum with their on-the-job experiences. The survey also resulted in changes to courses on “Veterinarians in the Global Community” and “Veterinarians and Public Policy.”

In addition to providing instructional support, faculty members at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, which is located on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, connect veterinary students with federal agencies in the greater Washington, D.C., area for clerkships.

“These clerkships introduce students to what it would be like working for a federal agency to solve problems from a national or global perspective,” said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, an executive with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who is serving a two-year assignment with the center. “Instead of figuring out how to treat a disease on an individual animal, we might ask, ‘How will this impact human health and the nation’s economy?’ ”

Sundlof added that the college’s tracking curriculum gives the college an advantage. Implemented in 1998, the tracking curriculum allows students to explore their interest areas in addition to completing the core curriculum that prepares them for entry-level clinical practice in any discipline.

“The college is unique in that it specifically has a track for non-clinical practice,” Sundlof said. “Students in the public and corporate veterinary medicine program have a unique set of experiences to prepare them for their future careers in the veterinary world.”