UGA College of Veterinary Medicine: From Backyard to Farmyard

Written By: Brian Cooke

Melissa Herndon knew something was wrong when Greta, her German shepherd, started getting patchy red and pink spots on her nose. The Herndons brought Greta to Royston Animal Hospital in Royston, GA, where they were advised that the problem could be due to an allergic reaction. A year later, the discoloration had spread to Greta’s paws and fur and even to her eyes, making her look much older than 3. 

“Honestly, we had to have a little doctor powwow here. Someone said they had heard of it [a potential cause] but never seen it,” says Dr. Ashley Noellert, a mixed animal veterinarian who saw Greta during Greta’s second visit to Royston Animal Hospital.

As it would turn out, their inkling was right, but Noellert wanted a second opinion. After all, the steroids that Greta was on weren’t going to be a total solution. So she reached out to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, a resource she leans on monthly for advice.

Started in 1946 with just 44 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students, the school has grown in both size and reputation. Today, says Dr. Scott Brown, associate dean for academic affairs, 114 DVM students are working towards a degree in state-of-the-art facilities, with more growth expected in the coming years.

The school is known by most Georgia residents for its Veterinary Teaching Hospital (2200 College Station Road, Athens, GA 30602). Built in 2015, this modern facility provides invaluable emergency services and advanced animal health care. That’s where Noellert referred Herndon and the family dog, Greta, to for a second opinion, and the hospital’s Dr. Frane Banovic agreed to evaluate Greta for free as a part of his ongoing research concerning animal dermatological issues.

After having made numerous visits to Athens and having used various medicines to treat Greta’s issue with uveodermatological syndrome, an issue more commonly affecting humans, Herndon has high praise for the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “I just feel fortunate to have a facility like that … that benefits the community of Athens and Northeast Georgia.”

Even Greta, says Herndon, is excited to go to the hospital, carrying her own leash between the car and the waiting room. 

The new hospital now has all the space it needs for 24/7 emergency care for anything from household pets to large farm animals. The space, says Herndon, is clean and professional, and Brown touts the facility’s easy access for those traveling from outside Athens.

The facility is very convenient for farmers and others with large animals, and its veterinarians and DVM students make frequent field visits to rural areas. 

Brown estimates that around 20,000 patients per year visit the new facility, an increase from the number who visited the older facility, which was efficient but small. Most patients are from Georgia, especially the region of Northeast Georgia. Household pets make up the largest number of patients, but agricultural animals and wild animals, such as birds of prey, also make frequent visits. 

The hospital and its service to the community, however, is only one of the college’s functions.

Research at the College of Veterinary Medicine spans a large range of topics. One research program is dedicated to poultry disease, an issue central to Georgia’s economically important poultry industry. Another research program, the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, studies diseases moving between wildlife and stock animals across the region. 

Threaded throughout both the research and service conducted at the College of Veterinary Medicine is teaching. DVM students and other graduate and undergraduate students receive a world-class education that prepares them for service in Georgia’s communities. 

“Society’s view of the importance of animals has changed,” says Brown, who sees a demand for more veterinarians. The school hopes to continue helping supply meet demand. Enrollment is growing in part because of the positive public perception of the veterinary career, which Brown says is one of the “most admired professions.”

For DVM students, the hospital provides invaluable resources for hands-on learning with a wide variety of animals under the supervision of their professors.

Of the 114 current DVM students, approximately 80 are from Georgia. Ideally, many of these students end up taking jobs in Georgia to meet the growing need. Increasingly, the college is focusing on training “mixed animal practitioners” — veterinarians who can do a little bit of everything for more rural areas. 

According to Brown, one of the biggest indicators of whether a DVM student will work in a rural community as a mixed animal practitioner is whether the student comes from a rural region. So while the college recruits and accepts students from all walks of life, there is a continuing interest in recruiting DVM students from rural areas. The hope, Brown says, is that they will head home to continue providing veterinary care for their communities. This emphasis is likely to help the Northeast Georgia region.

For Herndon and Greta the German shepherd, the impact of the college’s three-pronged approach of teaching, research and service cannot be overstated. Not only did veterinarians at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital confirm a diagnosis and return Greta to her sleek black-and-tan fur, they also took on the case free of charge for the purpose of doing research for future animal care. Furthermore, the hospital serves as an expert resource for nearby Royston Animal Hospital, a practice co-founded by four UGA DVM graduates. 

Animals are central to our lives, whether on the farm, in the factory or in the family home. For Georgians, the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine provides the foundation for our state’s ever-improving animal care. 

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