Years after AVMA probation & new Dean, CVM has declined further, review shows

This month marks the 6 year anniversary of CVM being relegated to probationary accreditation by the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education for, among other things, “major deficiencies” in core standards that all veterinary colleges must uphold.  Next month marks the 6-year anniversary of the appointment of Dr. Carlos Risco as Dean of CVM.

"Things are probably in worse shape now than it was," claimed an industry expert with knowledge of both the AVMA's accreditation process and the deteriorating circumstances at CVM.

Back in 2017, after touring the campus and investigating the college, the AVMA Council on Education determined that OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine was deficient in 6 of the 11 standards required of all veterinary colleges to achieve and maintain accreditation, with "major deficiencies" in vital categories. All 11 standards are listed below, with CVM deficiencies highlighted in red and “major deficiencies” highlighted in bolded red.

  • Standard 1: Organization
  • Standard 2: Finances
  • Standard 3: Physical Facilities and Equipment
  • Standard 4: Clinical Resources
  • Standard 5: Information Resources
  • Standard 6: Students
  • Standard 7: Admission
  • Standard 8: Faculty
  • Standard 9: Curriculum
  • Standard 10: Research Programs
  • Standard 11: Outcomes Assessment

The standards found to be deficient at CVM in 2017 are those which are core to quality education: poor finances, poor facilities and equipment, poor student-faculty ratios, substandard curriculum, and lack of focus on individual outcomes for students.

In response, CVM agreed at the time to focus on the following areas, according to an AVMA article entitled, “Oklahoma State cited by accreditor for deficiencies:”

  • Present a detailed financial plan that outlines how existing and new revenues will be allocated to sustain the program.
  • Provide enough faculty and staff to cover clinical responsibilities.
  • Provide sufficient faculty to deliver the educational program and fulfill the mission of the college.
  • Repair or replace and maintain flooring in the large animal hospital.
  • Ensure a holistic review of the curriculum.
  • Incorporate learning outcomes into individual course learning objectives.
  • Document that the clinical caseload is adequate for the number of students as well as provide information on the size of the food animal caseload and how the college will enhance this caseload.
  • Report on steps and a timeline for stopping student attrition.

With CVM’s next accreditation review by the AVMA just around the corner, we explored whether CVM has improved in each area in the years since Dr. Risco became Dean and the AVMA placed CVM on probation.

AVMA Standard 2 - Finances: IMPROVING

CVM primarily receives funds through student tuition, donor support, hospital fees, and taxpayer support.  With fractured donor and alumni relations, student tuition already elevated more than 22% since 2017, and hospital fees that are below sustainable (report coming soon), College and University leadership have been heavily lobbying the Oklahoma legislature for taxpayer support.  This year, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were allocated to CVM following the most recent legislative session. Therefore, finances should no longer be an issue.

However, it must be noted that donor support, caseload and hospital fees have consistently declined in the prior 6 years, and while taxpayer funds are vitally important, there is danger in failing to investigate why donor support and hospital performance have continually degraded because they implicate issues of donor and alumni relations, culture, leadership, medical standards and reputation.  

AVMA Standard 3 - Physical Facilities and Equipment: IMPROVING

CVM’s facilities and equipment, on the whole, are presently not state of the art. However, recently allocated taxpayer dollars offer CVM an opportunity to significantly advance in this regard.  This should satisfy the AVMA COE in their accreditation evaluations on a forward-looking basis. Thus, while the state of the facilities are not ideal today, the COE should likely see this as “improved” given the new taxpayer dollars allocated.

AVMA Standard 6 - Students: WORSE

The standard states: “The number of professional degree students in all phases of the program, DVM or equivalent, must be consistent with the resources and the mission of the college. The program must be able to demonstrate, using its outcomes assessment data, that the resources are sufficient to achieve the stated educational goals for all veterinary students engaged in its programs.”

CVM risks violating this standard at its next review. In recent years, CVM’s faculty and staff size has significantly decreased, while its student body has increased.  Indeed, more than 50 faculty and staff members have departed in just the prior 2 years, while CVM recently welcomed the admission of its largest class ever with 109 students.

While University leadership rightly celebrates CVM’s high NVLE pass rate in the most recent year, they have been slow to acknowledge serious challenges, at least publicly, which could reach critical mass without legitimate attention. While student pass rate successes are important, survey results and interviews with students suggest that the practical education being offered is substandard. Students report having to work outside of the classroom to supplement gaps in their formal education in order to pass their boards.

CVM leadership has been unclear whether it aims to fully utilize a ‘distributive’ model of education, which is increasingly being adopted by smaller veterinary programs whereby students are ‘distributed’ to local veterinary clinics and hospitals for partial fulfillment of curriculum needs.  This is complicated by the fact that local veterinarians in Stillwater report poor relationships with CVM and CVM leadership, and specialty service density sufficient for teaching would force students to travel to and from places like Oklahoma City and Tulsa.  Industry experts believe that CVM’s use of this strategy is more a statement of poor leadership given the resources available to OSU and CVM than wise direction for a program like CVM.

AVMA Standard 8 - Faculty: WORSE

The Standard states: “Faculty numbers and qualifications must be sufficient to deliver the educational program and fulfill the mission of the college.”

CVM has far fewer faculty and staff now than it did in 2017 when it was put on probation. A striking number of medical services have shuttered.  Workplace toxicity is the number one reported reason for this mass exodus, and the Dean has acknowledged this “low morale” problem in private discussions with alumni and staff.

Faculty are leaving at far higher rates than the College can replace them - and far more than any other veterinary college that we could find, causing a continued decline in the overall total number of qualified educators available to teach students.  Faculty recruits report that they will not work at CVM until leadership and workplace culture change.

AVMA Standard 9 - Curriculum: WORSE

CVM was required to perform a holistic review of its curriculum to ensure progressive and substantively comprehensive materials are delivered to students.  On paper, the curriculum has improved, but in practice there are significant challenges. Students and recent alumns report that the classroom experience is antiquated, the Teaching Hospital experience is substandard, key educators continue to depart, and several medical services have shuttered - even as the NAVLE pass rates are strong.  Thus, there is a disconnect in the student experience: they also report that the quality of education they receive is likely not as good as what is offered at most other veterinary schools in North America.

"The NAVLE rate is awesome, but the culture here is not, and no one should be ok with that," stated a recent graduate. "We checked TikTok on shift more often than we saw patients at VTH because there were none. I feel bad for the classes coming up behind mine."

AVMA Standard 11 - Outcomes Assessment: WORSE

Based on interviews with current and former students, faculty and staff, industry experts, local veterinarians, pet owners and others, we apply a Pass/Fail assessment to each category below.   While OSU highlights the NAVLE pass rate and ignores issues of faculty, staff and student experiences, we believe that it is, in fact, possible to achieve high pass rates AND build a positive culture that attracts top talent; we should not celebrate being the 6th-lowest scoring college out of 33 in the latest rankings.  We believe they go hand-in-hand, and so while CVM leadership makes the case that the NAVLE pass rate is the only thing that matters, we are very concerned about the foundational erosion that continues unabated with faculty and staff leaving, an inability to recruit new talent, and a toxic workplace that is driving down standards and quality.

This means that, as relates to Standard 11, CVM may claim it has improved ‘on paper’ inasmuch as it directs itself to do the right things, but it is unable to fulfill those promises in reality due to the closing of key medical services, the departure of key faculty and staff, and a toxic work environment.

The COE has a lengthy definition for this category which can be viewed here.

The probation requirements for the College include the implementation of processes whereby students are observed and assessed formatively and summatively, with timely documentation to assure accuracy of the assessment for having attained the following competencies:

  1. comprehensive patient diagnosis (problem solving skills) (Pass), appropriate use of diagnostic testing (Pass), and record management (Fail)
  2. comprehensive treatment planning including patient referral when indicated (Pass)
  3. anesthesia and pain management, patient welfare (Fail)
  4. basic surgery skills and case management (Fail)
  5. basic medicine skills and case management (Fail)
  6. emergency and intensive care case management (Fail)
  7. understanding of health promotion, and biosecurity, prevention and control of disease including zoonoses and principles of food safety (Fail)
  8. ethical and professional conduct, including the knowledge, skills, and core professional attributes needed to provide culturally competent veterinary care in a multidimensional and diverse society; communication skills; including those that demonstrate an understanding and sensitivity to how diversity and individual circumstance impact veterinary care (Fail)
  9. critical analysis of new information and research findings relevant to veterinary medicine. (Fail)


AVMA Requirement to ensure adequate caseload for instruction: WORSE

There is no evidence whatsoever that caseload has improved in the time since Dean Risco was appointed and the CVM was put on probation by the AVMA.  To the contrary, the evidence conclusively indicates the opposite: