Lyon College partners with Cabot to train veterinarians

Dr. Eleanor Green, Founding Dean of Lyon College of Veterinary Medicine, addresses the media during an announcement of a new partnership aimed at creating unique experiential learning opportunities for the Lyon College veterinary students during a signing ceremony with the Lyon College School of Veterinary Medicine and City of Cabot Animal Support Services at the Cabot Veteran Park Event Center on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023...(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Dr. Eleanor Green, Founding Dean of Lyon College of Veterinary Medicine, addresses the media during an announcement of a new partnership aimed at creating unique experiential learning opportunities for the Lyon College veterinary students during a signing ceremony with the Lyon College School of Veterinary Medicine and City of Cabot Animal Support Services at the Cabot Veteran Park Event Center on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023...(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)


The City of Cabot Animal Support Services will partner with the new School of Veterinary Medicine at Lyon College to provide experiential learning opportunities for students and additional care for the community's animals under a memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday.

This is "an important moment in the life of the nascent" veterinary school and a "pretty cool and exiting day" for Lyon College and Cabot, Melissa Taverner, Lyon College president, said Tuesday during an announcement of the agreement in Cabot. Not only will veterinary students gain hands-on, real-world experience so they're "practice-ready" upon graduation, but this collaboration will "plant the seeds" for the next generation of veterinarians in the state who will practice in Arkansas, rather than far removed from the communities that need their expertise, she said.

Arkansas is currently without a veterinary school, and -- despite the state's significant agricultural sector -- Arkansas ranks 49th in the U.S. for veterinarians per population with only 14 veterinarians per 100,000 people, according to veterinarians.org

This partnership is "momentous" and valuable, said Eleanor Green, founding dean of the veterinary school. "There will be more veterinarians in Cabot than ever before," and the community's youth will see "they can achieve the dream of becoming a veterinarian" in this state.

Nationally, more than 40,000 new veterinarians will be needed to meet projected demand in 2030, and more than 75 million pets in the U.S. may not have access to veterinary care by 2030 without intervention, according to a 2021 report by Mars Veterinary Health, a network of 2,500 veterinary clinics and hospitals. Pet care appointments increased 6.5% in 2021, nearly 2,000 baby boomer veterinarians are retiring annually, and it would take more than 30 years of graduates to meet the 10-year industry need for credentialed veterinary technicians.

Working in tandem, the City of Cabot Animal Support Services and the Lyon College School of Veterinary Medicine will develop innovative, progressive, caring, and compassionate solutions to ensure the well-being and safety of both animals and people in the local community, according to the college. City of Cabot Animal Support Services is dedicated to improving the lives of animals in the community through public education, resources and humane animal services.

Lyon and Cabot are "joining hands to be creative," and this "marriage made in heaven [is a] win-win proposition," said Green, who started her duties July 1 at Lyon College -- a private, liberal arts institution in Batesville that was founded in 1872 -- and will lead the college's request for accreditation by the American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education. Lyon's veterinary students will become part of the Cabot community -- eating in restaurants and meeting residents and their animals -- while learning from the community's veterinary professionals in "a model of education" other states will wish to emulate.

This is "a truly historic event" that will have a "positive impact" not only in Cabot, but throughout the entire state, said Mike Wheeler, Cabot's Animal Support Services director. The City of Cabot is focused on the "well-being" of its residents, and people with pets "are happier and healthier."

Cabot has been forming partnerships like this for the past several years, and "I'm so, so proud to have this in the community," said Ken Kincade, Cabot's mayor. "[I] look forward to working with [Lyon College], and we'll do everything we can to make this successful."

Conversations about a potential collaboration began six months ago, as the community and college share a common interest and mission, Taverner said. Both want to "improve the lives of those we serve, whatever the species."

Cabot will be one of a dozen proposed one-month rotations that students will move through in groups of 10 during their third year, said Carol Langston, director of college communications for Lyon. "We are open to discussions with other communities" regarding similar partnerships.

The memorandum signed Tuesday will be in effect for three years, although either side can terminate the agreement with at least 90 days notice prior to the intended termination date. A joint evaluation of the agreement will commence six months prior to the expiration of the initial memorandum, and it can be extended by another five years if both parties agree.

In addition to the School of Veterinary Medicine, Lyon College is also opening the state's first dental school, and the two schools will comprise Lyon's Institute of Health Sciences in Little Rock. Pending various accreditations, the college hopes to begin offering classes for both schools next year or in 2025; late last year, the Higher Learning Commission Institutional Actions Council approved the college's requests to offer the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Doctor of Medical Dentistry professional degrees.

Lyon College is expecting class sizes of 100-120 for its veterinary school. In addition to Lyon's veterinary school, Arkansas State University is also planning a veterinary school in Jonesboro, which would be the state's first public veterinary college.

The goal is for the first group of students to begin their veterinary studies in the fall of 2025, but because several steps remain to be completed -- such as approval from national regulatory organizations -- launching in the fall of 2026 remains a possibility, according to ASU Chancellor Todd Shields. The program's enrollment is projected to be 120 students in each cohort.

Students who receive their veterinary education out of state are likely to remain there, too, while those who'd study in Arkansas would be more apt to remain in this state, Shields said. Why force them "to go out of state when we can do this [education] here?"

ASU plans to employ a "distributive model," where students spend plenty of time in communities throughout the state working with animals, learning from veterinary professionals, and gaining hands-on experience in the field. Lyon's partnership with Cabot is also an example of this distributive model.

This is "such an amazing opportunity for the [city and college] to collaborate," said Alicia Payseno, director of economic development for the City of Cabot. It's an example of "dreaming big."