U.S. Veterinarian Magazine: Q&A With Dr. Sis

THE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE: Understanding and Meeting New Challenges in Veterinary Medicine and Training the Next Generation

Faced with failing Public Health systems, rampant globalization of communicable diseases and the deadly specter of Bioterrorism, Veterinary Medicine has entered a period of dramatic change. But what exactly are the challenges and opportunities? What experiences and skills should this new generation of doctors acquire? And which strategies will help in advancing short and long-term institutional objectives? In a recent conversation, Dr. Raymond Sis, Dean of St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, Grenada, provided an insight into some of the outstanding issues. A leader in International Veterinary Medicine, the School is in the midst of an unprecedented growth spurt, and has continued to attract dedicated students while expanding global affiliations in the US and UK. Additionally, it is now home to the first-ever international Phi Zeta chapter and a pioneer in the field of Marine Medicine.

Note: This interview with Dr. Sis was completed before Hurricane Ivan and does not reflect the broad range of on/off-campus activities since then: The WINDREF/St. George’s University “Relief Fund for Grenada” has continued to support communities across the island, and students in all three Schools have resumed classes on the “True Blue” campus.

Dr. Sis, what are the three most critical challenges in Veterinary Medicine today, and how is the professional academic community adapting to meet those changes?

The primary crisis in Veterinary Medicine is the globalization of communicable diseases. To compound that problem, there is a critical shortage of veterinary expertise within the United States to address the challenges of the global marketplace. Animal healthcare issues are a global concern, increased trading of livestock and livestock products – due to the ratification of trade agreements – heightens the risk of disease agreements. Meanwhile, new and reemerging diseases continue to impede food animal production. [Given these challenges], The internationalization of the curriculum would be helpful in preparing veterinary medical students for the opportunities and challenges of the marketplace. The [increased threat of bio-terrorism] threats also poses a new risk to our agricultural industry and thus the safety of our food supplies continue to be of concern.

What, by association, are the three critical challenges in Veterinary Medical Education and how is the community addressing those challenges?

Successfully recruiting our veterinary medical students into the careers of public health, food safety and secure food and animal production, veterinary research, and biosecurity if we are going to meet the needs of society. We also need to develop the arrangement of their course of study so that the new and reemerging diseases and Bioterrorism are taught in a logical and sequential manger in the professional curriculum. [Finally], we need development of additional graduate and postgraduate programs in order to provide specialists, researchers and public health professionals who have the essential knowledge to serve in all of the above areas.

How has the professional evolved over the last 20 years? What development has had the most profound impact on the profession?

Since 1984, we have had much research that has helped us discover treatments, greatly improved technology and improved communications. Through computer technology, new clinical and surgical techniques have come about. The development of new vaccines, pharmaceuticals, imaging methods and nuclear medicine has added many new dimensions to the practice medicine. In the area of small animal care, there has been an increasing demand from clients for higher quality care and treatment of pets.

How has this, in turn, affected Veterinary Education?

These new dimensions and developments have created an incredibly amount of excitement and enthusiasm in the classrooms and laboratories. We simply have much more to teach in animal welfare, ethics, food safety, public health and food production. We have also developed new methods of teaching and incorporated new technology into veterinary medical education.

What is the single most critical issue in veterinary medicine today?

At the present time, the globalization of communicable diseases is the single most critical issue in veterinary medicine, and it’s considered to be a crisis situation in veterinary medicine.

How would you characterize St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s mission within that context?

We will continue to be proactive and provide the educational foundation that will enable our graduates to embark on any and all available careers throughout the world. Globalization of communicable diseases of animals is one more challenge that we can and will be able to meet. Our central mission is all inclusive, and globalization of communicable diseases of animals definitely falls within the context of our veterinary education program. Veterinarians are now on the forefront in this field, and our students are trained to answer that call. For this reason, our programs in Public Health, International Veterinary Medicine, Wildlife Medicine and Marine Medicine are very timely initiatives to our School.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges that veterinarians face (in the field)?

First, we face the challenge of updating mobile hospitals and serving remote areas. Veterinarians must begin sharing knowledge with their clients, conducting seminars and other educational opportunities in their communities as well as participating in community organizations through public speaking opportunities.

Veterinarians and veterinary medical institutions have responded very well to all of the new opportunities available to them. They are also emphasizing the incorporation of new findings into college curricula, laboratory sessions, lecture halls, surgical suites, and clinical settings. The pharmacology field, research, agricultural settings, animal production, meat/poultry/fish production and pet care are all areas where veterinarians are at work. All issues of modern veterinary medicine are being addressed by the veterinary community.

How is St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine positioned to take advantage of these opportunities?

We are an international school equipped to train students to serve the needs of an international community. Due to the fact that St. George’s University is located on a peninsula on the island of Grenada, we are positioned to offer training in marine medicine, which includes seafood safety, zoonotic diseases, conservation medicine, aquaculture, mariculture and pet and exotic animal care.

Because of our location, we have many opportunities to interact with fishermen, poultry, swine, sheep and goat farmers. We also have the Grenada Society for the Protection of Animals (GSPCA), and we take advantage of the opportunity to join with them in caring for the small animals on the island. The students have many student organizations and we can work with them on their projects to benefit the community.

What are some of the key issues that a veterinarian now faces?

There’s been a steady increase in companion animals such as birds, aquarium animals, rodents, cats and other and exotic animals. These pet owners are making great demands for high-quality veterinary care and treatment. This is making a great change in the nature of companion animal practices.

The livestock industry desperately needs veterinarians who will address problems that these clients have with production and the health of their large animals. Therefore, veterinary medicine educators will have to increase their efforts with those types of training programs.

Research involving some animals is not very well funded now and more emphasis could be placed on that need.

Postdoctoral studies need to be increased in order to train veterinarians who could seek positions in the public health field.

How does St. George’s prepare students to take on those challenges?

One our greatest strengths is the experience, dedication and accessibility that our veterinary medicine faculty that gives our veterinary students the opportunity to discuss such issues with their professors and to obtain recommendations and advice in the course of their studies. We offer students training in the skills needed to meet those challenges.

How should veterinary schools prepare students to meet those challenges?

We need to give them a broad-based educational experience, and we need to emphasize to students the importance of belonging to professional organizations such as the American Veterinary Medicine Association that help with problem-solving and provide information to keep them up-to-date in their chosen field of veterinary medicine. Finally, we need to offer continuing education and professional development for graduates. Continuing education opportunities should be a very attractive aspect of our school because of our unique and beautiful location on a peninsula situated in the Caribbean Sea.

How will pursuing that mission put George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine at the forefront of Veterinary Medical Education (or in a leading position to advance the goals of veterinary education)?

Our central mission statement explains the special tasks for which a veterinarian is apparently destined in life. I believe graduates will be able to take this mission statement with them when they leave St. George’s University and find a successful endeavor in veterinary medicine. They are highly motivated when they enter our program, and we send them off on the journey as knowledgeable and skilled veterinarians.

In light of the new changes/challenges impacting the community, how would you characterize some of the key issues that you face as an educator?

Veterinary medicine is certainly undergoing some rapid changes, and there are challenges within veterinary medical education. The new and reemerging diseases in animals in a world that is becoming more and more a global village are a great challenge. Nevertheless, we have ambitious faculty members at SGUSVM, and I am convinced that we can adequately train our veterinary medical students to meet the challenges of the veterinary profession.

How has St. George’s addressed those very issues?

St. George’s reviews and makes necessary changes in the curriculum in order to keep abreast of new changes and challenges impacting the community.

What is the future if the veterinary community? What are some of the new developments/challenges on the horizon, including the professional and educational spheres over the next 10,20, 30 years?

The future of the veterinary community is going to be one of service that extends even beyond the next 30 years. Those who have gone before are perfect examples of women and men serving the needs of animals and their owners. We will have a unique opportunity and responsibility to find solutions to some difficult issues. There will be new responsibilities in animal health and welfare, public health and food safety, and environmental sciences.With a well-planned curriculum that endorses developments in the veterinary profession, we will strive to make some rapid advances in research, teaching, veterinary practices, and the public sector.

How would you characterize your personal role in leading that mission?

As Dean of St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I strive to be a leader in the veterinary medicine field, but also to be extremely accessible to our students. It is important for me to ensure that we are providing the kind of leadership that will permit our school to continue to excel in the educating of veterinary medical students

One of the most important personal roles I have enjoyed playing is providing the unique cultural opportunity for our third-term veterinary medical students to work along with veterinary tutors at the new GSPCA-SGU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Our students are also able to work on our farm and pastures with large animals, and that too is an excellent opportunity for our third-term students.

What would you say are your greatest personal and institutional achievements so far?

The charter class, numbering 29 students, has led the way as the University’s program grew and developed over the past XX years. One year ago, St. George’s University was affiliated with eight (8) veterinary schools in the U.S. and three (3) in the U.K. This year, the School has grown to include affiliations with twenty-three (23) universities, seventeen (17) in the U.S., four (4) in the U.K., one (1) in Canada and one (1) in the Republic of Ireland. Currently, five (5) additional schools have agreed to be affiliated with St. George’s University and the agreements are in preparation. We have just accepted our 11th class totaling 2 students who began their studies in August 2004.

We look forward to the moment the world will see the results of the hard work, determination and dedication by the trailblazing charter class.

Dr. Desmond Baggot, a St. George’s Professor of Pharmacology, has been appointed Dean, Fourth-Year Clinical Training. [He] will participate in the placement of students in affiliated veterinary schools, follow the academic progress of individual students in clinical rotations and maintain close contact with the affiliated schools. He will [also] maintain a record of performance in external professional examinations and keep in touch with veterinary alumni. Dr. Austin Kirwan has also been recently appointed to the newly created role of Assistant Dean to St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in the U.K. The first of these students started doing rotations at affiliated universities at the Royal Veterinary College, London, and the University of Edinburgh in August, 2003. The appointments of Drs. Baggot and Kirwan will provide oversight and management for the fourth-year clinical education of our veterinary medicine students.

What are some of the great advantages afforded by St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine?

In addition to the traditional teaching methods of lectures, laboratories, field and clinical experiences, we have some group tutorials and problem-solving sessions. We have an exceptional Department of Educational Services, which provides academic support services to us through a variety of programs, courses and workshops focused on students’ academic success and faculty development. The major academic support services include: the Academic Enhancement Program, which promotes academic success and retention; the Study Skills Program, which provides study skill assessment, and advises students in test-taking strategies, stress management and time management; the TESOL Program, which offers classes such as the English Medical Communication Skills Course, workshops, and individualized tutoring to help students develop their English language skills; the Faculty Development Program, which promotes faculty growth through seminars and workshops in concepts, methods and techniques of education; and the Office of Educational Assessment, which provides the University with support for its “educational assessment” needs.

St. George’s University is a place where students can fulfill their dream of attaining a quality education in veterinary medicine. The student and faculty diversity presents a rich variety of cultural backgrounds and enhances the international character of the educational experience.

St. George’s University is a dynamic and exciting private institution. The School of Veterinary Medicine is proud to be a partner with a progressive and innovative medical school that has provided 27 years of quality medical education. St. George’s University provides a unique environment for the study of modern global veterinary medicine. There are opportunities to do further studies in wildlife medicine, marine medicine, international veterinary medicine and veterinary public health. With state-of-the-art laboratories, facilities and outstanding student support services, our veterinary program is designed to train professionals to meet the needs of worldwide animal care.

We offer a dual DVM/MPH degree that opens up many career opportunities in the field of Public Health. Our Marine Medicine curriculum is now being developed. During the Summer term of 2004, we conducted a workshop address marine turtles and resources available on the University campus. This a tutorial-based program, introductory program in marine veterinary medicine (MVM) designed for veterinary students and veterinarians.

Financial Aid Services provides the following programs to assists students: St. George’s Veterinary Private Loan Program, Private Education Loans, University-sponsored scholarships, Academic-based scholarships, International Peace scholarships, Merit-based scholarships, New Generation loans and Grenadian scholarships.

Our Veterinary Medicine Program is a three-year program designed as both a foundation for and a continuum within the program in veterinary medicine. Some students are just involved in the preveterinary program for the third preveterinary year. Our Board of Admissions places students into the appropriate term.

How would you characterize the internationalization of veterinary education?

1. The addition of international veterinary medicine to our curriculum is a response to the changing career goals of veterinary students.

2. The program allows our students to become aware of the role they can play in Public Health and it will prepare them for a successful career in the world community. There is an expanding global demand for veterinary expertise.

3. A coalition of collaborating cultures.

4. Overarching educational issues.

5. A deep interest in expanding the frontiers of veterinary medicine, improving the health and welfare of animals and people around the world, and developing an international infrastructure for the cooperation of veterinarians that will ultimately transcend all political boundaries.

6. The range of needed activities is very broad:
a) A greater acceptance of responsibility
b) A more diverse student body should be recruited
c) Some modifications are needed in this curriculum
d) Exchange programs should be developed

7. A core interest and experience can be demonstrated and is in place so we can build upon it.

8. We are already doing quite a few things, and there are things we can attempt to do better.

9. There is some solid thinking that will help to guide us in the near future.

10. There is a great need for better and more extensive international understanding and activities.

11. Dr. Lonnie King has proposed these “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Globalized Veterinarians”: 1) creating opportunities, 2) functioning interdependently, 3) adopting a cosmopolitan perspective, 4) possessing vision, 5) champion continuous learning/improvement, 6) mastering a global business mindset, 7) operating in a “connected” manner and 8) mobility.

12. Helping others is a rewarding experience.

Do you feel that there are certain areas where The School of Veterinary Medicine is pioneering?

Careers in Marine Medicine and Aquaculture programs have been offered for a number of years. However, there is an increased awareness of the growing importance of aquatic animal diseases of the need to improve aquaculture biosecurity around the world. Aquatic animal production. St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine is committed to preparing veterinary medical students for careers in aquaculture and marine medicine. Because of our location in the Caribbean, St. George’s is in a unique position to make a great contribution to marine medicine.

The development of a Marine Veterinary Medicine program utilizing the existing marine station at St. George’s is one of our initiatives. The overall vision reflects global concern for the marine ecosystem health and conservation. A Marine Veterinary Medicine program administered within the School of Veterinary Medicine in collaboration with WINDREF (Windward Islands Research Foundation), the School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Medicine seeks to maximize site-specific opportunities linking the University’s established curriculum in veterinary medicine to its unique geographic positioning within the marine environment. Program efforts will include partnering with Grenadian citizens, government/ministry official and non-governmental conservation organizations such as Ocean Spirit, the Caribbean Stranding Network and the Nature Conservancy.

The St. George’s University Marine Veterinary program will take advantage of our location in the Caribbean and will include the following opportunities for study: tropical fish medicine, coral reef ecology, marine mammal medicine, marine turtle medicine and conservation, environmental health and food safety and mariculture.

How do you see this developing over the long term?

It seems quite apparent to me that this program in marine medicine is a valuable addition to our program. The Aquaculture 2004 meeting was held this past March in Honolulu, and it attracted veterinarians and scientists from all over the world. The biosecurity symposium that was held at this meeting was sponsored in part by the AVMA and was conducted for two and a half days. It was the first international meeting of its type to have a primarily veterinary thrust. We will soon be conducting similar symposiums and conferences at the School of Veterinary Medicine. For example, a Caribbean Stranding Network Workshop is in the planning stages and will be held on campus.

How does this specialty relate to current trends in the veterinary medicine community?

Marine medicine has been incorporated into the curriculum of several veterinary schools and private marine institutions around the world for quite a few years. I would say this specialty relates very well to current trends in the veterinary medical community. The need for veterinarians who concentrate on conservation medicine, seafood safety and aquaculture appears to be strong.

What kind of student does the School of Veterinary Medicine want to attract?

This would attract a student with an inquiring mind, one who has keen powers of conservation, one who likes and understands animals, and has an aptitude and interest in the biological sciences. Students who are diligent, cooperative and alert are also good candidate for our school. We are seeking to further enhance diversity in our veterinary medical student body.

How would you characterize the current student body?

Admission to the School of Veterinary Medicine is competitive. Prospective candidates should note that the entering classmen are competitive, and those applications completed early have the advantage of being reviewed at the beginning of the admission process.

We are currently experiencing a burst of growth and sometimes have to defer applicants to the following term if there are no available seats.

The Board of Admissions utilizes a rolling admission policy for the School of Veterinary Mediicine, therefore applications are accepted and reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Why should prospective veterinarians consider St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine?

If you visit our Website (www.sgu.edu), you will see that our students enjoy a very peaceful, beautiful and quiet environment that is quite conducive to the acquisition of knowledge. We are pleased that there are so few distractions for them on this island, and they are able to concentrate on their studies.

The School is providing veterinary students with an excellent education in a multicultural environment. Our 45,000 sq. ft., two-wing, fully electronic library, state-of-the-art laboratories, multimedia classrooms, student support facilities, a vibrant extracurricular life, and three new super dormitories. This is an outstanding campus with 42 new buildings on the beautiful True Blue Peninsula in Grenada. Some of these buildings now have wireless Internet, and the plan is for the entire campus to have wireless Internet. We have become a truly [international] university with a School of Veterinary Medicine, School of Arts and School of Medicine.

Our veterinary students are able to experience the global atmosphere represented by diverse cultures. In this setting, students become more tolerant of others. They learn additional people skills and as a result, become better veterinerians. Here at SGU you feel a sense of camaraderie rather than competition.

This new “True Blue” campus and facilities are incredible. I feel that students get a first-rate education with the added advantage of the personal and caring attention from the faculty and staff to facilitate the attainment of their goals. Clinical tutors and teaching assistants are available for additional tutoring.

Our veterinary school is a top-flight veterinary school. One of our many strengths is the quality of teaching. The visiting professor program is especially good and gives veterinary students exposure to international faculty who are experts in their special fields and some are world authorities. We have a high ratio of faculty to students, and they are accessible to the students. We have an atmosphere that encourages academic excellence, emphasizes the value of diversity and develops critical thinking. Our Department of Educational Services is excellent.

Why should prospective veterinarians consider St. George’s?

We are affiliated with 17 schools of veterinary medicine in the US, 4 schools in the UK, and one school each in Canada and the Republic of Ireland, where St. George’s students spend their final clinical year alongside students enrolled in those institutions. Our fourth-year students are fully integrated with the students at these affiliated schools in a program of rotating assignments.

What does St. George’s offer that other veterinary schools do not?

We offer students a quality education in veterinary medicine because of the quality of our teaching:

– Our Department of Educational Services is exceptional
– Third-year students are able to participate in clinical experiences
– Tutorials and tutors are available
– A developing and dynamic Marine Medicine Program
– Combined DVM/MPH and DVM/MSC programs.

Our strengths:

– The experience, dedication and accessibility of our veterinary medical faculty.
– Highly motivated students

– The newness of the living quarters and teaching facilities

– The acquisition and use of up-to-date technology

– The strong affiliations we have developed with our affiliated schools

– Close student contact and interaction

– Laboratory support

– These new buildings are [in development]: diagnostic laboratory. Surgery building, histology and classroom facilities

Our students have performed well on licensure examinations.

How does St. George’s School of Veterinary Medicine differ from US-based schools as well as regional competitors such as Ross University?

Since we are in session nine months of each year, our student are able to spend their summers, working in clinics, participating in summer research programs, and various experiences in international veterinary medicine.

Since our school is surrounded on three sides by the beautiful Caribbean Sea, we are in a perfect location for an outstanding marine medicine program.

We are attracting key visiting professors and permanent faculty to appoint to our veterinary medical faculty.

St. George’s has an outstanding student services program that provides the students with the tools they need to satisfactorily complete their veterinary medical education and training.

Where do you envision St. George’s over the next 10, 20 and 30 years?

My vision is that St. George’s will be recognized as one of the top schools in veterinary medicine by the year 2015, and it will be a vibrant and growing school of veterinary medicine. Our students will be looking forward to having responsibilities in animal health and welfare, public health, environmental sciences, and food safety. Further diversification in preparatory training toward specialties in dentistry, oncology, cardiology, opthamology, urology, dermatology and orthopedics will have taken place. Our school will be facing with many new challenges and opportunities which will make the next 10 years very exciting. We will be nurturing and developing special initiatives which make St. George’s University a special place at which to receive a veterinary medical education. We are now quite pleased with the progress our veterinary school has made and the current positive stature and momentum of the program. We will continue to study changes underway in technology, education and human affairs and continue to deliberate about the changes ahead. Currently, we have a preprofessional and professional program. In the future, we will add preprofessional and postgraduate education. We will be making a difference in the field of veterinary medicine.

By the year 2025, curriculum changes will have been necessitated in order to meet the changes in the profile of the profession. Our enrollment may increase. Our faculty will include a number of specialties who are concerned about improving the environment for all humans, improving animal and poultry production, and food safety.

When the year 2035 arrives, we will have a greatly increased faculty staff [as well as] a number of new classrooms and laboratories. St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine will be continuing to provide high-quality veterinary medical education. We will continue to be an institution that is excellent in teaching veterinary medicine and continue to provide an intellectual environment that stresses global awareness, develops leaders, encourages continuing education and remains committed to the success of our students.

How would you summarize your progress thus far?

We have state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. Our large animal hospital is becoming a reality. We also work in conjunction with the GSPCA Veterinary Teaching Hospital and have had a steady increase in that facility. There were over 20 student volunteers who worked in the Teaching Hospital this summer. The number of visiting professors and permanent faculty members has increased. Eighty-two students were accepted in the 11th term this fall, and that is the largest class at this time. A number of renowned professors have been appointed to our faculty. We now have 23 affiliate veterinary schools in the US, England, Ireland and Canada for our 7th and 8th-term students. Our charter class was recognized at a commencement exercise in October, 2003, in New York. Our first alumnae reception was held in conjunction with the 2004 AVMA Convention in Philadelphia and was well attended. A veterinary alumnae association was also formed. We congratulate our veterinary student, Lori Braun, who was elected to a national office the National SCAVMA at the AVMA Convention in Philadelphia. The national veterinary honor society, Phi Zeta, will install an Alpha Delta chapter at St. George’s University in October, 2004. The last new chapter was installed in 1991We are the first international school to have a Phi Zeta chapter. We are now enjoying wireless Internet service in several buildings. New equipment continues to be added in our new laboratories and classrooms. Our student organizations include: SAVMA, IAAAM, Wildlife Society, Large Animal Society, IVSA, AAHA, SGA Preveterinary Club, Public Health Student’s Association, The Orphanage Student Association, Volunteer Services and Surgery Club.

Published on 09/27/2004