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The proposal for a new veterinary degree programme at University of Limerick has been supported by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with one of Ireland’s largest networks for independently owned veterinary practices.

During a visit to University of Limerick, Mike Curran, CEO and Sean Coffey, Chair of XLVets met with University President Professor Kerstin Mey and the veterinary school project leads at UL as the team described how the proposed partnership model will provide a practical solution to the need for a comprehensive veterinary education programme for Irish students and will also provide a means for UL to serve its community.

Mike Curran, CEO XLVets, University of Limerick President Professor Kerstin Mey and Sean Coffey, Chair XLVets Ireland

In 2023, the HEA and Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science put out a call for expressions of interest from HEIs to expand capacity in veterinary medicine.

Following an assessment of applications, UL was shortlisted to engage with the HEA on its proposal to host Ireland’s second veterinary school to specifically address the profession’s recruitment and retention crisis.

An inability to provide sufficient veterinary care into the future will negatively impact on animal welfare and agribusiness it has been argued and in support of its proposal, UL has signed the MoU with XLVets recognised as the leading business network for independently owned veterinary practices in Ireland and hosts 27 independent businesses, 47 veterinary clinics, 250 support staff and 190 veterinarians, throughout Ireland. 

Noting how UL’s proposed veterinary school would contribute to the One Health initiative, Professor Mey said “human medicine and veterinary medicine must be complementary and synergistic in controlling and preventing zoonotic diseases from infecting across species. The challenges of the 21st century demand that these two professions work together in times when there is an increased risk of zoonotic diseases due to globalization and climate change. 

“One Health can promote and implement close collaboration between human medicine, veterinary medicine, and all allied health scientists with the goal of hastening human public health efficacy as well as advanced health care options for humans and animals.

“UL also has established research programmes in human medicine, equine science, dairy, biomedical and antimicrobial resistance, which will complement veterinary teaching and research.”

UL is proposing to deliver a ‘hybrid distributed’ model of veterinary clinical education using this network of elite veterinary practice partners, regional placement hubs, and the development of a contemporary teaching veterinary hospital on the UL campus.

In this way, the UL veterinary programme will bring a particularly innovative and imaginative practice-based approach to the delivery of clinical training, with students getting exposure to an appropriate balance of first opinion and specialist referral cases. At full capacity, the annual intake into the UL veterinary medicine programme will be set at 90 students and, of these, approximately 12 will be students from Northern Ireland.

XLVets representatives were also briefed by Professor Colum Dunne, Head of UL School of Medicine, on clinical general practice teaching in UL as the group discussed the University’s plans for novel student selection proposals and planned veterinary clinical placements in Year five of its programme with Professor Sean Arkins, Chair of Equine Science and Andrew Flaherty, UL’s Chief Commercial Officer. 

Professor Sean Arkins, Chair of Equine Science, Mike Curran, CEO XLVets Ireland, Andrew Flaherty, University of Limerick‘s Chief Commercial Officer, University of Limerick President Professor Kerstin Mey, Professor Colum Dunne, Head of University of Limerick School of Medicine and Sean Coffey, Chair XLVets Ireland

Professor Arkins noted that UL is confident that its distributed model for veterinary clinical placements, with students living and working in rural practices, will positively influence graduates towards clinical practice and rural career choices.

The transition to veterinary practice is a critical period for both new graduates and the practices hiring them. Successful mentoring relationships are critical to smoothing the transition to practice, developing, and improving clinical competence, and building a solid foundation for career success. 

The UL School of Veterinary Medicine also discussed collaboration with XLVets on the development of a mentoring programme to optimise the transition to clinical practice.

Concluding the visit, Professor Mey said that “UL looks forward to introducing a novel and innovative programme of veterinary education whose graduates are multi-competent, resilient and industry-ready”.