WesternU Names The Nation's First Woman Dean Of A College Of Veterinary Medicine

The President of Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) announced September 10, 1998, the appointment of Shirley D. Johnston, DVM, PhD, as Founding Dean of the University's new College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This is a historic moment for veterinary education,” said Philip Pumerantz, PhD. “Dr. Johnston becomes the first female ever to head a veterinary school in the United States or Canada. She will be responsible for opening the first veterinary school in Southern California, and the first in the United States in 16 years.”

Dr. Johnston was unanimously recommended by a Search Committee following an interview process that screened more than 20 qualified candidates from across the United States. She will assume her position as dean on September 28, 1998.

“Following a broad and thorough investigation, it was determined that Dr. Johnston was the best person for this job,” said Dr. Pumerantz. “She has 25 years of experience in veterinary medicine as an award-winning teacher, a widely published researcher, and a nationally respected administrator. Further, her commitment to incorporating compassion and caring into veterinary medicine matches perfectly with WesternU's humanistic tradition.”

Dr. Johnston has served as both a professor and an associate dean for St. Paul's College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Prior to accepting her position at WesternU, she was Professor and Chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences for the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, Pullman.

“I am honored to accept this position,” said Dr. Johnston. “To lead in the foundation of a new veterinary school is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I can't think of a better location for such an institution. Southern California is one of the richest areas in the nation in terms of the quality and diversity of veterinary medicine and the number of animals that require care.”

According to a Veterinary Medicine Task Force Report produce by WesternU, Southern California is the last major metropolitan area in the United States without the direct presence of a program to educate veterinarians. Although the region hosts a rich supply of animals, supporting virtually every element of veterinary practice, the number of veterinarians in the Western United States remains low in comparison to national averages. California has 1.64 veterinarians per 10,000 people—substantially less than the national average of 2.16 veterinarians per 10,000 people.

The Task Force Report also states that the profession is increasing in popularity, which is attributed in large part to the interest of women and minorities in veterinary medical practice. According to Task Force member and Search Committee Chair Billy Hooper, DVM, 69 percent of students entering veterinary medical schools in the last academic year were female.

“The perception of Search Committee members was that the naming of Dr. Johnston would be extremely advantageous to the veterinary profession and would send an important message to potential students and faculty,” said Hooper, who is a former associate dean of academic affairs at Purdue University and Oklahoma State University. “There is currently a strong need for female role models in our field,” he added.

WesternU's College of Veterinary Medicine plans to enroll 70 students into its first class by the academic year 2000-2001, increasing to 85 in the fall of 2001 and reaching 100 by the fall of 2002. It will be the first veterinary school to open in the United States since 1983.

Dr. Johnston's first priority as dean will be to secure reasonable assurance of accreditation from the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Dr. Pumerantz, the Task Force members, and I are in full agreement to build a first-rate, fully accredited veterinary school,” said Dr. Johnston.

Dr. Pumerantz has repeatedly stated that he would not move forward with a college of veterinary medicine unless it was distinctive and one of which the entire profession would be proud. “To undertake such an effort, it must mesh with our university's primary care, student-centered culture and humanistic environment while significantly advancing veterinary medicine and veterinary education,” he said.

In developing the plans for a College of Veterinary Medicine, Carl E. Trinca, PhD, Vice Provost/Vice President for Strategic Planning for WesternU and Chair of the Veterinary Task Force, said that the establishment of a College of Veterinary Medicine at Western U will enhance the support of current programs.

Dr. Trinca stated to the Board of Trustees that the addition of a veterinary program is fully consistent with the mission and goals of the University. He added that the proposed budget “provides for resources to more than adequately meet all programmatic needs without diminishing the quality of any other program. Our existing Colleges have much to contribute to a College of Veterinary Medicine and a College of Veterinary Medicine will have much to contribute to our University.”

Responding to news of Dr. Johnston's appointment, Mitchell Kasovac, DO, dean of WesternU's College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, said “the addition of Dr. Johnston and a college of veterinary medicine is a very positive move for this university. It creates exciting new opportunities for all of our disciplines.”


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