A former active duty Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps has been tapped to lead a new training clerkship in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine that is designed to more thoroughly acquaint veterinary students with the "real world" of veterinary medicine.

Dr. Bess J. Pierce, who joined the college on Aug. 15, is leading the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s new “Community Practice” clerkship, which was created last May to provide veterinary students with additional exposure to more routine veterinary healthcare experiences.

Since it began seeing cases in the early 1980’s, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital has offered primary care services for clients who reside within a 35-mile radius of the Virginia Tech campus. Clients who reside outside of the immediate practice area must have their animals referred in to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital by their community veterinarian.

Over the past several years, however, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital caseload has become increasingly focused on challenging and complex cases referred in by general practitioners from communities across Virginia and Maryland who are seeking the sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic support that is offered by the board-certified veterinary specialists on faculty in the college.

While the college is well-equipped and pleased to provide that advanced level of care for those critically ill patients, the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences recognizes that it also has an instructional obligation to provide students with broad experience in managing the kinds of cases that they will likely see most of the time in their general practices.

Fourth-year D.V.M. students in the college spend their final 12 months of training in a series of three-week clerkships that provide them with direct “hands-on” experience in areas such as medicine, surgery, radiology, pathology and many other areas of medicine.

All students, whether they are tracking in small animal practice, large animal practice, mixed animal practice, food animal, or public and corporate veterinary medicine, are required to complete the new “Community Practice” rotation. The caseload has been growing steadily in the new clerkship, Pierce says, and they are now seeing from 120-160 cases per rotation.

“This is where they get their every-day skills in veterinary medicine,” said Pierce, who is board-certified by both the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. “This ensures a common training experience for all students. So far there’s been excellent feedback.”

Pierce’s career with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, which is responsible for public health, food safety and animal care, has provided her with excellent experience for her new assignment.

After serving as chief veterinarian at California’s Edwards Air Force Base and a staff veterinarian with the Okinawa Branch Veterinary Services in Okinawa, Japan, she conducted a three-year residency in internal medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Following that, she returned to Japan to serve as chief veterinarian of the U.S. Army’s Japan District Veterinary Command, Okinawa Branch for three years. From there, she moved to San Antonio, Texas, where she served as chief of medicine and outpatient clinics for the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Service.

Most recently she was assigned to the National Capital District Veterinary Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which includes about 90 soldiers and civilians, and eight Veterinary Corps Officers. In addition to caring for military animals, that command also provides veterinary care for other federal agencies that use working dogs, such as the Transportation Security Administration.

Pierce is excited about the opportunity to lead the new program and eventually hopes to create a two-year residency program in the college that would lead toward board certification in the Canine/Feline Specialty by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. She created a similar program for the Military Working Dog Veterinary Service based in San Antonio.

Pierce remains a Lieutenant Colonel in the Veterinary Corps, U.S. Army Reserve, and will spend six or seven weeks a year working at the Military Working Dog Veterinary Service in San Antonio.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.


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