By Jessica Domel
Multimedia Reporter

A $69 million pledge from the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) has moved the Texas Tech University System’s goal of opening a veterinary school in Amarillo one step closer to fruition.

If all goes according to plan, construction on the new school could begin as early as the fall of 2019, according to Dr. Guy Loneragan, Texas Tech University professor of Food Safety and Public Health.

“The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, with their grant of up to $69 million, provides a back stop or guarantee for the facilities and the infrastructure we need,” Loneragan said in an interview with the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “The total budget for the infrastructure is $90 million, so we will continue to raise against that $69 million pledge by the AEDC.”

The university plans to meet with the legislature when it reconvenes to discuss its plan.

“When the legislature meets, it becomes easier for them to look at this program as a very worthwhile investment for the state in that we will take them to a facilities and plan that is funded,” Loneragan said. “As we ask them to provide the startup money needed for the operation, to get the operation part of the school off the ground, then it becomes easy for them to look at this as an immediate return on investment for the state dollars that they would provide for the operations.”

The school, according to Loneragan, will help meet the needs of the state as it continues to grow.

“The growth in Texas means that we have a veterinary workforce shortage, and that is particularly pronounced in agricultural communities all across Texas,” Loneragan said. “Our focus in building this school is to build a model, a curriculum and a design that really produces vets that are willing, and not just willing, but want to go and live and work in agricultural communities all across Texas.”

The university has been told by stakeholders and veterinarians across Texas that veterinarians who are willing to work on both large and small animals are needed—especially in rural settings.

“It boils down to how we select the students, how we train them with a really innovative curriculum and then give them experiential learning so they’re willing and really want to go and live and work in agricultural communities,” Loneragan said.

The proposed veterinary school would be housed near the Texas Tech University Health Science Center campus in Amarillo.

The veterinary school would be structured similar to a school in Alberta, Canada.

“Alberta was suffering a very similar situation to Texas. It needed more vets to go and work in rural Alberta. The University of Calgary, a little over 10 years ago, designed from the ground up a really novel, innovative model of veterinary education,” Loneragan said. “It changed everything. It changed the way they selected students. It changed the way they trained students, and it changed the way they provided the clinical experiential learning. That has been an overwhelming success.”

Under the new design, almost two-thirds of graduates from the University of Calgary now go into jobs that serve rural Alberta.

“That really is transformative, so we’re taking bits and pieces from what Calgary has done and what the Texas Tech University Health Science Center has done to build our model to the needs of Texas,” Loneragan said.

The program will not have an on-campus hospital where the veterinary students will train. Instead, the school will have a network of practices and other sites, like dairies and feedlots, that allows the students to earn their clinical experience.

“We don’t want to compete with the existing vets in the area,” Loneragan said. “The other aspect of an on-campus hospital is they are expensive to run, and those costs are often passed on to students.”

There will also be a second site where clinical skills training for larger animals will be conducted. It’s about two miles from the current campus.

Target enrollment is 60 students per year.

If all goes according to plan, the first cohort of students would enroll in the fall of 2021.

Instead of competing with the current veterinary school at Texas A&M University in College Station, the planned Texas Tech veterinary school will complement its curriculum to cut down on the number of veterinary shortage areas in Texas and surrounding states.

“Absolutely, we need another veterinary school,” Loneragan said. “The growth in Texas and the growth in the need for the workforce has exceeded the capacity that any one institution can meet.”

Plans for the veterinary school have been underway since 2015.

The estimated annual economic impact on the Amarillo community from the veterinary school is $76 million, according to the Amarillo Globe News.

When realized, the college will be the 31st veterinary school in the nation. It would be the only place in the nation with veterinary, pharmacy and medical schools on the same campus.