Cornell Program Brings Practitioners Back to Campus

A few veterinary medical colleges in North America are paying practitioners to round out classroom experiences with real world tips. At Cornell University, veterinarians who participate in the Practitioner in Residence program spend a few weeks or months at the teaching hospital in exchange for a small stipend. Academic professionals acknowledge that it is difficult for doctors to leave practices, but say the value to students is immeasurable.

“It brings [the academic approach] down to earth,” said William Miller, VMD, medical director for the Community Practice Service. For example, while professors may show students the wide array of diagnostic tools — and encourage frequent use — clients may not be willing to pay for exhaustive tests.

“In practice you have to weigh the value of a particular test,” Miller explained. “You have to learn to ask yourself, ‘What is the dollar value to the client for each and every test that I want to run?’"

Several veterinarians have expressed interest in the Cornell program, which was unveiled in the spring. Ideally practitioners will spend a few weeks or months on campus, but Kevin Kuhn, DVM, spent two days and hopes to return for another round this spring.

“I had a great experience the short time I was there,” said Kuhn, a single practitioner at the Afton Animal Hospital in New York. “[It] was fun and exciting to interact with the students and faculty.”

Doctors will conduct rounds with student physicians to confer on cases and—Miller hopes—impart some information about life in the field. “They share the joys and headaches of practice as they’ve experienced them over the years,” Miller said.

“It’s almost like he [the doctor] is the boss in private practice and the student is the junior associate,” said Miller, referring to mentorship opportunities. “He would be polishing up the young physician so that he would make a better mark in the world.”

Similar programs have been established in California and in Florida, which is how the late Ernie Smith, DVM, first became aware of the opportunity. Smith designed the Cornell program and set up an endowment to help pay for it. A general practitioner with a keen interest in dermatology, Smith enjoyed sharing practical tips and homemade concoctions, like antibiotics mixed with ear cleaners, to expedite treatment.

“Ernie believed, and so do we, that interaction with a real practitioner on the floor would make the experience even better for students,” Miller explained.