The new School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo is designed to help address the shortage of veterinarians in the state, provide more opportunities for students to stay in Texas and aid in reducing student debt.
If you're a student applying to veterinary school in Texas, you currently only have one option. That's the predicament faced by Nicholas Shellenberger, who earned his bachelor's degree in 2017 from the Department of Animal & Food Sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources at Texas Tech University.
"Growing up, I always had an interest in animals," said Shellenberger, a native of Granbury, southwest of Fort Worth. "That interest later turned into a passion and appreciation for livestock, which is why I want to practice in a rural, agriculture community with large animals."
Understanding the odds, Shellenberger decided to continue his education at the graduate level and gain as much valuable experience as possible while furthering his studies at Texas Tech.
"Altogether, I've logged more than 1,000 hours with small, large and exotic animals at multiple veterinary clinics, and in the field, I've conducted research as a graduate student, and been fortunate to help perform many procedures such as embryo transfers, pulmonary arterial pressure checks and even a bovine open-heart surgery," Shellenberger said. "My grades, while not a perfect 4.0, have been solid. My education has definitely prepared me to take on this next chapter."
Unfortunately, he falls into the same category that many other pre-vet Red Raiders and most Texas students seeking a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree find themselves in – heading out of state or, in Shellenberger's case, out of the country to pursue his veterinary education.
Set to graduate in August with a master's degree in animal science, he will attend veterinary school at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland, for the next four years.
While Texas Tech is moving ahead with plans for its School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, it won't be ready by the time Shellenberger earns his second degree from Texas Tech. Soon, however, many of those students hoping to remain in the state and pursue a veterinary education will have another option to stay home and go to veterinary school.
Texas Tech has developed an innovative, world-class model that addresses the critical shortage of veterinarians threatening small, regional and agricultural communities throughout Texas. More than $90 million has been raised in non-state funds for the project. The university now is seeking approximately $17.35 million from the Texas Legislature in the 86th legislative session to help support initial operations.
The school's model is cost-efficient, designed to attract students with a passion for rural veterinary care and will graduate career-ready veterinarians to serve the state.
It's welcome news to people like Shellenberger, even if he won't get to experience it.
"While I know where I'm headed for veterinary school and look forward to the quality education and training I'll receive, I also am excited for future students to have this new option of attending a second veterinary school in Texas," Shellenberger said. "I support Texas Tech's vision for a veterinary school because it's seriously needed in our state. Texas is a big state with a huge livestock population and a lot of students who dream of becoming veterinarians."
Shellenberger is not alone. Kenley Skinner earned her undergraduate degree in animal science from Texas Tech and will earn her DVM from Colorado State University (CSU) this year.
At CSU, Skinner said she is surrounded by numerous veterinary students from Texas, including at least one from Texas Tech. She has seen firsthand the need for another veterinary school in her home state in order to meet the demands from students.
"If any state needs two vet schools, it's Texas, just because it's so large, and the high demand in West Texas for food animal vets is outrageous," Skinner said. "There are a lot of people out there who are interested in studying food animal medicine. It's the way to go because there are so many opportunities once you graduate. Everyone at CSU is for the Texas Tech veterinary school. I think it would be a great opportunity for Texas Tech and would be wonderful for Texas and West Texas."
In 2017, there were almost 600 applicants for the existing veterinary program in Texas, but due to limited capacity, only 142 students were accepted and enrolled. More students left the state to pursue an education in veterinary medicine than the number of first-year students enrolled in the state.
The state's existing veterinary program graduates less than 25 percent of the incoming veterinary workforce in Texas. Quite simply, demand is more than the existing program can supply, and the need continues to grow.
Since Texas Tech announced its plans to develop a veterinary school, the number of new pre-veterinary majors in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources has tripled, increasing from 50 students in 2014 to 156 students in 2018. Enrollment of new undergraduate students in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences has nearly doubled, growing from 164 students in 2014 to 313 students in 2018.
"There's a huge need for large-animal veterinarians," Skinner said. "A lot of people who practice in Texas go to Dallas, Houston and big city areas. But West Texas needs vets who can live in rural areas and focus on small animals and large animals.
"I think the Texas Tech veterinary school is a great idea because it really opens up opportunities to go to different places and do different things. Clinical practice is only a small fraction of what you can do when you graduate from vet school. There also are opportunities in research, and there are opportunities in food-animal medicine – which is big – swine medicine, poultry medicine, at the United States Department of Agriculture and in food safety. There are so many different options out there."
As with all veterinary students, racking up large amounts of debt is a concern, and the odds are stacked against them when paying out-of-state tuition and fees.
"Going out of state means paying higher, out-of-state tuition," Shellenberger said. "It can be scary to think about the significant financial commitment. However, I am confident going out of state will be a worthy investment because of the strong needs and workforce demands in the Texas agriculture industry."
Having two veterinary schools at two major public universities in Texas provides students with more opportunities for affordable education. Texas Tech's model addresses these issues with a concept that lowers the cost of education and encourages veterinarians to remain in Texas long-term.