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What vet school could look like

Four-year programs? No. Blockchain technology? Yes. Income sharing? Perhaps. We have a lot to learn about education and how knowledge is shared and absorbed.

What vet school could look like
If someone can learn at a faster pace, opt out of something they already know and curate exactly what they want to learn, why shouldn’t they?

How can we better prepare the veterinary student of the future, and do it more cost-effectively?

Let’s get provocative and toss out 10 ideas for consideration, debate, improvement and adoption. We’re ready for the tomatoes to be launched. We don’t claim to have all the answers.

1. Hybrid Distributive Model

In this model, which is slowly being implemented in veterinary medicine, academia partners with real-world clinical collaborators to provide an immersive, cost-effective, high-caseload, hands-on experience, all with the goal of teaching and learning commonly seen conditions uncommonly well. Under this model, students and teachers are no longer constrained by the limitations and boundaries of a tertiary care teaching hospital. We should embrace the best of those teaching hospitals and find profession-leading partners to fill the gaps.

This approach is a natural step in the centers of excellence school of thought long championed throughout the profession. The model has been around for decades in other health professions, leading to graduates who are more confident and more competent.

2. New Technology

The biggest technological change in higher education over the last 100 years, it’s been said, was the move from the chalkboard to the whiteboard. Sad.

Technology has the power to reduce the cost of education, deliver high-quality outcomes, attract a tech-enabled, tech-interested generation to the veterinary profession, activate and bring experts in direct contact with learners, and open the world to students. Why should learners have to stay in one place when they can do much of their learning through smartphones or laptops, participating in professor-convened discussions, peer-to-peer groups and the like?

When it comes to augmented reality, virtual reality, asynchronous learning and artificial intelligence, you might ask, “Will Professor Ro Bot be delivering lectures, and will Dr. Ro Bot diagnose our cases and treat our patients through intelligent devices and sensors, leaving professors and DVMs sitting on the bench?” Probably not.

Fortunately, humans have a few skillsets uniquely our own. In the book “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” author Aoun Joseph points out that judgment, collaboration, curiosity, communication, empathy, teamwork and leadership are uniquely human traits. These creative, social and leadership qualities can’t be automated.

What does the educational consumer of tomorrow want? Experts say the learning styles of future students will be vastly different. The learning experience will be technology-rich, on-demand, peer-to-peer, active, hands-on and time-variable, all the while allowing learners to own their learning records.

Today’s emerging technology enables the learners of tomorrow to achieve it all for less money.

3. Blockchain

Blockchain is a technology with hundreds of uses in other vertical industries. In our learning context, it can provide a platform for learners to acquire “badges,” or demonstrate competence via examination or skill demonstration. Blockchain technology helps solve the challenges of the competency-based model of medical education. It provides a trustworthy, digitized, decentralized ledger that creates a method for multiple entities to issue and accept credentials that are portable, verifiable, shareable, meaningful and discoverable. In this ecosystem approach, the co-branded content and credentialing will hold tangible value and buy-in for all parties involved.

Think of it this way: DVMs-to-be move in and out of veterinary practices and academic institutions during the four years (or less) of the curriculum. They continue to accomplish their didactic work either remotely or semi-remotely via facilitated discussions and peer-to-peer learning. They progress at their own pace and complete their studies in their own time frame.

4. Prioritizing Skills

Competency-based medical education is a learner-centered model that de-emphasizes equating competency with grades and focuses instead on abilities and achievement as salient learning outcomes. Competencies are the currency of the future workforce and will be captured on a secure digital learning ledger (blockchain) that never closes. This allows the learner to perpetually build an educational record, transfer it seamlessly, and skill and reskill to meet the needs of an everchanging society. That’s the future.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Competency-Based Veterinary Education framework — learn more at http://bit.ly/2BnxktX — is being adopted by member institutions. Comprising 32 competencies, the framework can serve as a basis for greater outcomes assessment analysis. Using the competencies allows colleges of veterinary medicine, with the help of AAVMC, to fully digitize competency-mapping. Once the competencies are agreed upon and a digital logging solution is implemented, time-variable education can happen in which competency determinations occur anywhere and at any time. Time spent in the traditional education environment and associated costs potentially decrease.

5. Limited Licensure

To further stir the hornet nest, now might be the time to make a case for limited licensure. We would, however, rebrand the idea as enhanced licensure. Enhanced in that it can produce a more competent and confident graduate versus the traditional James Herriot all-things-taught-to-all-students approach.

In this model, veterinary students interested only in companion animals would not be required to spend clinical course time with large animals. The didactic portion of their education would include a rich baseline of comparative medicine and exposure to diverse pathways of veterinary medicine. The result would be a more focused career-learning experience, resulting in a more prepared, more competent, less indebted, more productive practitioner. Equine and food animal courses would be curated for students focused on those careers and would enhance their skills.

6. Remote Professors

WhatsApp, BOTIM, Zoom, Google Hangouts, WeChat. We can connect through video with anyone anywhere and at any time. Platforms like these engage learners. YouTube meets Slack meets social. That’s the future of learning.

Knowledge has never been more accessible. Anyone can place anything on the web. Learners today can instantly acquire quality content on their smartphones without having to sit in front of a classroom and listen to someone. Classroom real estate, much like shopping mall space, will need to find a new purpose. Professors’ knowledge will remain critical, but they must rethink their delivery.

How would a professor’s role change? Conveners, facilitators, capacitators, challengers, conversations starters and mind stimulators meet through in-person and digital interactions.

Oh, and tenure? It goes away eventually because access to quality content comes at 5G-plus speeds and is at our fingertips 24/7. Plus, the educational marketplace is more and more competitive and performance-based. That means quality learning.

The professor of tomorrow is a convener and facilitator — digitally competent, curating content in a distributed and decentralized educational ecosystem, and adding value through innovative channels.

7. Less Material

Why is so much information jammed and squirreled into the veterinary curriculum? Because knowledge is being created at a rate never seen before. But we don’t get rid of the old stuff. Our students need a baseline. Lifelong learning continues beyond the hallowed halls.

Cutting material out of the curriculum will allow students to spend more time doing what they want to do. What they learn will be relevant to society and correlate to entry-level success.

8. Income Sharing

Have you heard of income-sharing agreements? It’s a contract between a student and the school. The student borrows money from the university to pay for the education and in exchange agrees to pay the university a percentage of his or her post-graduation salary for a specified number of years. The amount paid back increases along with the income.

Some institutions are already doing this — see Purdue University’s Back a Boiler program — and it seems to be both popular and working well.

9. Asynchronous Learning

Why are degree programs like the DVM/VMD time-bound and set at four years? What is so magical about four years? If someone can learn at a faster pace, opt out of something they already know and curate exactly what they want to learn, why shouldn’t they? It’s happening in undergraduate programs, and professional schools will follow. It’s what the learner of tomorrow wants and society requires.

The learners of the future want to skill and reskill in alternative and affordable bite-size models. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children today will end up in careers that don’t yet exist. What parts of veterinary medicine won’t exist in 15 or 20 years? Can we break veterinary education into bites so that a graduate can resume learning at any time, changing from, say, small animal to equine?

10. A Focus on Adaptability

The adaptability quotient (AQ) has been described as potentially more important than IQ (intelligence quotient) or EQ (emotional quotient). The Harvard Business Review describes teams with high AQ as having the new “competitive advantage.”

AQ is, quite simply, the ability to adapt and thrive in a fast-paced environment. Why is this important? First, workers change jobs now more than ever before. The average American employee spends 4.2 years in their current job, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Second, workers of the future and even today must continually skill and reskill because their skill relevancy is expiring at a pace faster than society has ever seen.

Academic institutions have slowly shifted their focus from IQ to EQ. Guess what? The focus going forward will be AQ. Adaptability can be taught. Ecosystems and enterprises that provide pathways and build cultures of adaptability (high AQ) will maintain and retrain workers. In contrast, those organizations that do not foster organizational and individual AQ will be left behind. Technology will not slow down. Change will only get faster.

Dr. Jason W. Johnson is vice president, dean and a founding faculty member of the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Bob Lester is chief medical officer of WellHaven Pet Health and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves on the North American Veterinary Community board of directors.


The learner of the future enrolls in veterinary school via one click on her iPhone. An amalgam of free or subscription-based, self-paced credentials or badges is awarded through a collaboration of private, non-profit and land-grant institutions.

The student is not required to live in a specific geographic location. Her learning is facilitated by rich technology — virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence-driven content — as well as in-person, peer-to-peer interaction and interprofessional teamwork.

She is shepherded by faculty members who are conveners. Student experiences, such as live-animal skills, occur at any number of accredited learning outposts, be it private practices or traditional colleges. She learns through the ease of her mobile device and integrates real-life workplace learning, all for credit, at her pace.

Her exams are AI-driven, providing relevant content until she acquires mastery. Her badges stack, and when she reaches a threshold for a particular licensure exam, she takes it. All the information lives in her digital learning ledger through blockchain technology, or an e-learning wallet, which never closes.

As she continues to skill and reskill throughout her career, she owns her learning record. All the ecosystem members of the blockchain agree — academia, industry and state boards, licensure and examination — so that her skill stack (credentials) is valuable and visible. She achieves this all without staggering debt.

This isn’t some sci-fi education show. It’s here, and it’s what the educational consumer, the learner of tomorrow, wants both for higher education and continuing education.

Are we ready to change? Ready or not, change is here.