New UGA dean eyes program, hospital expansion and strategies to retain specialists


Athens, Ga.— The critical issues facing veterinary education are endemic but not insurmountable, says Dr. Sheila Allen, who, was named to the permanent dean position of the University of Georgia's (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine in early November.

ATHENS, GA.— The critical issues facing veterinary education are endemic but not insurmountable, says Dr. Sheila Allen, who, was named to the permanent dean position of the University of Georgia's (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine in early November.

Dwindling state funds, holding the line on tuition increases and competing in a thriving specialist market that is slowly luring faculty away are all issues in need of triage. And the trends simply add more competitive pressure to remain state-of-the-art, foster research, grow knowledge, attract a cadre of qualified students, turn-up the incubators on the next generation of doctors and still hunt down the money to pay for it all. The challenges aren't isolated to UGA's $50.3 million program; it's the reality of higher education this century.

And if you ask Allen, her legacy as dean is already in draft form. You simply need to inquire about her long-term goals.

Family Support

In an exclusive interview with DVM Newsmagazine, Allen shared her vision for the college and talked about her life experiences as mother and oncologist/surgeon that ultimately cemented her role as the second female veterinary dean in the United States.

Of quality and quantity

The vision looks something like this:

In short, the oncologist/surgeon eyes growth in the college's programs and reputation. If planned correctly, the money will follow to sustain program expansion.

"You need to have long-term goals that you are shooting for or you are simply maintaining the status quo," Allen says.

On the agenda:

  • Build a new state-of-the art teaching hospital. Plans are in the works through the guidance of husband Dr. Douglas Allen Jr., who heads UGA's $7.9 million teaching hospital. UGA's Board of Regents recently added the college to its list of capital expenditure projects earmarked to move forward. The new teaching hospital likely will take a couple of years to fund. Allen is looking to tap state money from both Georgia and South Carolina. The Peach State ranks fourth in population growth; South Carolina isn't far behind. "As you are aware, we need more veterinarians in public health, food safety and ecosystem health," she says.

This new infrastructure will help the college expand enrollment and help fill underserved needs in Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia and Delaware. Long term: "I would like our enrollment to expand by about 50 percent, frankly, by the time I would finish and have the faculty and staff commensurate with that enrollment increase," Allen says. The school boasts of 378 DVM candidates with 116 faculty on its roster.

  • Improve specialist salaries to "at least diminish the gap between the private sector and the academic sector." With 24 years of UGA experience, Allen dubs the recruitment and retention of qualified specialists as a "huge challenge faced by all of academia". UGA has five veterinary specialist openings that have gone unfilled for the last year. While other veterinary schools are in tougher straits, the most fought-after areas remain in small animal surgery, ophthalmology, radiology and oncology. "Those specialties have an excellent job market right now, and we are competing with each other (veterinary colleges) and the private sector to recruit the best and brightest. We don't have the kind of turnover some of the schools are faced with because this is a nice place to live and a nice environment. However, if we have a faculty member retire, it is getting more and more difficult to replace him or her with a specialist."

  • Finish an animal health research center to allow the university to perform infectious disease investigations. The facility is slated to open next summer.

  • Tap into the UGA's College of Public Health to build out a combined DVM/MPH program. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there's a need, Allen adds. She's looking for 10 students to graduate from the program each year and enter careers "sorely needed in veterinary medicine".

  • Identify students interested in biomedical research, offer a DVM/PhD program and fund it through an endowment.

  • Minorities are also under-represented at the university with a 9-percent pool of students. Recruitment programs are on the drafting boards to reach out to children earlier about the opportunities in veterinary medicine.

The funding hunt

Long-term funding for the creation of new programs in the pipeline is a key role for any veterinary college dean. To make it become reality, Allen says the funding war must occur on many fronts.

Setting the agenda: The second female veterinary dean in the United States is intent on executing a strategy to grow the veterinary college at the University of Georgia to keep pace with the state's burgeoning population growth. Dr. Sheila Allen won the deanship, and she plans to win over the gatekeepers of public and private coffers to help pay for the vision.

"It's no secret that the amount of state support for any veterinary college — I don't care where we are in the country — is diminishing in percentage of what it takes to run a school. The only way we are going to be successful and advance forward is to be able to generate revenue from a variety of sources. I don't think it is reasonable to think it will come from any one area," Allen says.

"What it boils down to is being successful in raising funds in contracts and grants, research and private funding generation both from private individuals and corporate foundations."

Veterinary teaching hospital revenue also needs to be self-supporting. "It's important for our teaching hospital to generate enough revenue so that we can advance in our technology and be at the pinnacle of where a veterinary hospital needs to be."

Tuition increases on the other hand, should be considered a last resort.

"The DVM degree is a very expensive degree when you compare it to a possible financial gain when the student finishes. So, I don't think we can rely on tuition revenue long-term to keep the college moving forward. Allen opts to keep tuition at a reasonable level because it already acts as an economic barrier as entry to veterinary medicine.

Adapting to change

Allen is convinced that her medical skill as surgeon and oncologist also will serve her well as the lead administrator to Georgia's sole veterinary program.

Surgery is great preparation to build teamwork, a skill that she recognizes as important to help lead the college to its next level.

Surgeons rely on anesthesia support, nursing care, consulting radiologists and a host of aftercare support focused on one goal — to improve the quality of a patient's life. In this case, the same principles apply to improvements within a veterinary medical institution.

"You have to be prepared for what you think is going to happen in the operating room, yet be able to adapt when things don't work out the way you thought they would. In surgery, you have to think on your feet and respond. It is great training for teamwork because you can't do a surgery without support."

The 1981 Cornell University graduate went to University of Georgia to begin an internship in small animal medicine and surgery. It was during this residency that ignited her passion for surgery and oncology. "That's what intrigued me about oncology, the biological behavior of the cancer itself... it's different from any type of malady that an animal can develop."

It didn't take Allen long to marry her clinical passions with teaching residents and veterinary students. "I enjoy the academic environment because you can do different things. You can be off on clinics and pursue scholarly productivity, and then there's the teaching and interaction with other specialists.

"What I find particularly rewarding is you can be part of a team that uses the patients we see everyday to expand our knowledge base and share it with others."

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