Is a behavior club enough for veterinary students?

In today’s news summaries was an article titled “Colorado State’s vet program strives to improve lives through valuable programs,” published in the Rocky Mountain Collegian. It’s impressive that the CSU Veterinary Behavior Club is sponsoring a free symposium for pet owners “offering a chance for the public to learn about animal behavior from CSU professors and clinicians.” One of the club’s goals is to increase awareness of improving the human/animal bond by increasing good behavior in companion animals. This is terrific and I hope they continue to be successful.

There is a disconnect here, though, which I think should be disturbing to anyone recognizing the importance of behavioral medicine in our lives with companion animals. Behavioral medicine is a critical specialty for vet students to experience, yet most veterinary schools either do not offer veterinary behavior as a clinical specialty to which primary care veterinarians refer cases (and I believe CSU is among these) or, perhaps more egregiously, they downgrade (for example by replacing board-certified faculty with residents) or close down existing veterinary behavior services.  With the exception of veterinary schools at University of California – Davis, University of Georgia, North Carolina State University, University of Minnesota, Purdue University, University of Tennessee and Tufts University — that is only 7 out of 28 U.S. veterinary schools —  there are no board-certified veterinary behaviorists in tenure- or clinician-educator track positions at most schools. Is behavioral medicine that much different from internal medicine, orthopedic surgery or cardiology?  Considering that behavior problems are reported to be the most frequently cited reason for relinquishment of dogs by their owners, it would seem that this specialty area would merit equal priority.

I am thankful that students can be motivated to sustain a behavior club, even in the absence of a behavioral medicine specialty, and I hope that at least some of these students will apply their interests in future clinical practice or research.  But schools should take this focus a step further and reevaluate their academic programs to include behavioral medicine by appointing board-certified veterinary behaviorists to more faculty positions.  Our future veterinarians — and clients — certainly deserve this.


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