The first veterinary medical school in Southern California has been approved for Western University of Health Sciences. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) granted the critical initial step in the accreditation process this morning, allowing Western University to begin hiring faculty, recruiting students and raising funds to complete capital construction projects. When the college opens its doors to students in fall 2003, it will join the University of California, Davis as the only veterinary medical schools in California. "I’m thrilled the AVMA has recognized the quality of our academic plan and the tremendous partnership of our college with veterinarians throughout Southern California," said Shirley Johnston, DVM, PhD, founding dean of Western University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. "We’re going to take many of the innovations in veterinary medicine of the past two decades and bring them together for the first time in one school. It will be a different learning model and a different financial model." No new college of veterinary medicine has opened in the United States since 1983, and an acute shortage of veterinarians exists in California. UC Davis opened in 1948 and accepts approximately 122 new students a year – in a state with 33 million residents. The Western University curriculum approved by the AVMA is particularly innovative. During the first two years of their academic program, students will participate in a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum on campus. PBL is an alternative to the traditional lecture format of many colleges. It emphasizes learning basic science in the context of case studies and acquiring communications skills as small student groups work together to learn veterinary concepts. Students in their final two years will rotate through regional veterinary practices and clinics – similar to what students in human medical schools do – rather than study in a university-owned veterinary teaching hospital. Significantly, the curriculum is "non-consumptive" with a distinct reverence for life. Students will practice surgery techniques learning psychomotor-skills on models and computer simulations before applying them to live animals. No teaching animals will die in the Western University- CVM curriculum. "Dr. Johnston, the first female dean of an American veterinary college, is highly regarded in the veterinary community," said Western University President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. "Our plan always has been to create a veterinary college of which the entire profession will be proud and Dr. Johnston and her staff are well on their way to doing just that." Dean Johnston’s former posts include professor and chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine and professor of small animal clinical sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Western University of Health Sciences, founded in 1977, is an independent, accredited, non-profit university that grants post-baccalaureate professional degrees in health sciences disciplines, including osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies and advanced practice nursing. Western University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and all its degree programs are accredited by their respective professional organizations. More than 1,500 students currently attend Western University. The university founded the College of Veterinary Medicine in August 1998 and has been working toward accreditation ever since. Sunday it secured the first step in the accreditation process, known as a Letter of Reasonable Assurance, from the AVMA’s Council on Education (AVMA-COE), the accrediting body for schools of veterinary medicine. The new veterinary school will help ease a shortage of veterinarians in Southern California and throughout the state. The ratio of pets to veterinarians in Los Angeles County is 100,000/10. The AVMA prefers a ratio of 100,000/17.8. Nationally, about 7,000 students apply each year for 2,300 slots at the country’s 27 colleges of veterinary medicine. Many frustrated students leave the country to attend school, a path that takes significantly more time and money than going to an accredited American veterinary school. The four-year program, which leads to a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, will open with 70 students in 2003. By 2005, the college plans to enroll 100 new students a year. Last April, Western University filed a federal lawsuit against the AVMA charging it with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act when it previously twice denied the college the first step toward accreditation. Western University Executive Vice President Christopher N. Oberg said the university is considering future options regarding the lawsuit. Dean Johnston praised the work of an AVMA-COE liaison committee that had been established to assist the university in gaining approval. The AVMA- COE made its decision to grant the letter of Reasonable Assurances at a meeting in Schaumburg, Illinois. For more information regarding the Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, contact the college at (909) 469-5628. The Web site address is