SPC, UF energized by veterinary school idea

Published April 9, 2007

Pinellas County could become the home of a school of veterinary medicine - the second in the state.

The vet school, which is in the early stages of discussion, would be a partnership between St. Petersburg College and the University of Florida. Students who complete the program would become doctors of veterinary medicine.

"We've had some conversations," said Glen Hoffsis, dean of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. "We have a lot of work to do to see if we've got something."

If the partnership takes off, UF would be the only vet school in the country with such a program, SPC president Carl Kuttler said. There are about 28 vet schools in the United States.

The proposed partnership would not be limited to SPC and UF. The Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa and the Pinellas County School District may also participate.

"It could end up being an incredible thing for this area of Florida," Kuttler said.

The idea grew a few months ago from a little bit of "dreaming," Kuttler said. The dream was fueled in part by a desire to provide more educational opportunities for Pinellas residents but also by the national dearth of veterinarians.

"There are shortages of veterinarians in every sector of the profession," Hoffsis said.

In Florida alone, there are about 18-million people, he said, yet the only vet school is at UF. This year, about 900 qualified students applied for the incoming class, he said. But the school could accept 88.

At the end of the four years, the school graduates almost all of those, Hoffsis said, but that's not enough to meet the state's needs.

"There needs to be a work force expansion," Hoffsis said. "That's part of my reason for exploring this."

SPC would be the perfect host for such a program, Kuttler said. SPC and UF already have two partnership programs. One is in pharmacy, and the other is in dentistry.

SPC also has both a two-year program and a four-year degree program in veterinary technology.

"Our people are getting great jobs," Kuttler said. "The next logical step ... is to have a doctorate of veterinary science."

Kuttler has also spoken with officials from the Lowry Park Zoo about participating to benefit both the zoo and enhance the learning and experiences for the students.

"If these things come to fruition, we certainly want them to know the zoo would be available as a site for internships," said Craig Pugh, deputy director at the zoo.

Kuttler said he is excited about the prospect.

"It could be one of the best internships in the country," he said.

If the vet school does become a reality, the most likely location is SPC's Seminole campus, which already has science labs and houses the dental school partnership program, said Lars Hafner, vice president in charge of the University Partnership Center at SPC.

Hafner cautioned that other sites are also being considered. One is the SPC Clearwater campus, where the vet tech program is housed.

But neither campus has the facilities to house cows, pigs, horses or other large animals. And that's where Seminole has a slight edge.

The nearby Seminole Vocational Educational Center is already set up to care for such animals.

The campus has horses and houses pigs and other large animals for classes that some students take in the school district's veterinary technical education program.

Using the Vo-Ed center, which belongs to the Pinellas County School District, would be a plus for high school students who would have ready access to a veterinary career track, Kuttler said. Pinellas residents would never have to leave the county, he said.

"I have asked the school system if they would consider coming to the table," said Kuttler, who plans to meet with all parties in the next three to four weeks to talk about the possibilities and logistics.