All Creatures Great and Small: New Veterinary School to Lean into Innovation

All Creatures Great and Small: New Veterinary School to Lean into Innovation

Above: A rendering of the Lyon dental and veterinary schools at Heifer. (Polk Stanley Wilcox)

Little Rock isn’t Eleanor Green’s first rodeo.

The Florida native, founding dean for the forthcoming Lyon College School of Veterinary Medicine, is quick to point out she’s already helped build one veterinary school from the ground up, a key skill set she brings to the new school coming to downtown Little Rock.

“I cut my teeth on academia as a founding faculty member in a brand-new college at Mississippi State,” she said. “We got an opportunity to build that college from the ground up. It was very ahead of its time and did some very creative initiatives that focused on education and students that other schools hadn’t done before. That allowed a lot of vocational stimulation that actually shaped the rest of my academic career with a focus on innovation, creativity and new ideas and staying current.

“That’s the thing I’ve found absolutely irresistible about this position is that it’s another opportunity to build a college from the ground up, but not just any school of veterinary medicine. Our goal is to create a school that is truly innovative and creative and can serve as a model for education in today’s every-changing world.”

Green’s resume is long and includes senior adviser/consultant for Animal Policy Group and vice president at Iron Horse Consulting & Iron Horse Farm. She is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, large animal internal medicine, and a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, certified in equine practice.

She also currently serves on the advisory board of Mars Veterinary Health and on the boards of directors of VetGuardian, Brief Media, PetDesk, Veterinary Innovation Council and Lead Changes, as well as for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Everybody in my family is from human medicine,” she said. “They’re all surgeons. My dad, my granddad, my uncle; everybody’s a surgeon. I grew up with a passion for horses. I’ve had horses since I was very, very young. I think I got my first horse when I was 9, maybe 8, and never been without one since.”

Her passion for animals, starting with equines, led her to the University of Florida, followed by veterinary school at Auburn University.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to combine my experience in the medical profession and my passion for all animals than in veterinary medicine,” she said. “It’s been a very fulfilling career. I tell people there’s not been a single day in my life that I hadn’t loved going to work. How many people can say that?”

Lyon’s veterinary students will be the first to earn their degree in Arkansas.

Green comes to her newest opportunity after serving as professor emerita and dean emerita of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University. Her long career in the field of veterinary medicine has allowed her a wealth of opportunities to innovate. Something she wishes to be the calling card for the new Arkansas venture is combining fresh thinking with tried-and-true curriculum and training pedagogy.

“The clinical training is going to be what we call the distributive model, which means that they will go out into existing private entities and do a lot of [student] training,” she said. “We have some partnerships lined up for that, from Arkansas veterinarians to some unique partnerships where they’ll actually work in practices that are devoting some time to teaching them in that environment.

“There are several colleges out there that have distributive models, and there is always a question about do they get a quality education just like they do in a teaching hospital? What they’ve found is that these students perform very well on the tests that they need to take, and practitioners are praising them. So, I think the model is proven to work, and it’s going to work here, too.”

The school is a boon to the state, which has struggled to attract and retain quality veterinary care statewide. According to Lyon College, Arkansas ranks 49th in the country in veterinarian-to-population ratio with many of the state’s current practitioners at or nearing retirement age. Moreover, eight of Arkansas’ 75 counties offer no registered veterinarian and 10 other counties had only one as of 2020, a statistic no doubt fed by the fact the state has no veterinary school of its own.

Given these facts, last year’s announcement by Batesville-based Lyon College to launch a veterinary school, which looks to welcome its first class of 120 students in 2025, was greeted warmly.

“We’re excited for the students of Arkansas,” Wes Ward, Arkansas secretary of agriculture told Inside Higher Ed. “Hopefully, it’ll give them the opportunity to get their veterinary education in the state and hopefully give them the chance to stay in the state as opposed to opting for another.”

Green pledged to do just that, saying the school’s approach will be tailored to encourage students to consider careers in the state’s rural areas, where the need is greatest.

“If we look at America, it has gone where it used to be 98 percent agrarian and rural to 98 percent urban, pushing 99 percent,” she said. “We don’t have as many young people who come off of farms and ranches as we did in the past. It becomes a challenge and, quite frankly, it’s a lifestyle choice for these students to do the kind of medicine they want as well as to live where they want.

“It’s true across the whole country, if not the world, that small animals predominate, so we want to make sure they get a good solid experience there. But we’ll also offer electives and additional experiences for them that will allow them to increase their knowledge and understanding. That could be equine, it could be food animal, it could be a general rural practice, it could be exotic animal medicine, it could be zoological medicine.”

Part of the school’s focus will be to not only educate students according to the needs of rural Arkansas, but to actively foster an interest in directly serving these areas after graduation.

“There are many enticements out there,” Green said. “There are federal programs that help pay their student loans. There are even some local programs in some communities that try to entice students to come to the rural communities with veterinarians, just as with doctors. As a school, we’ll be doing what we can to try to encourage and entice students to go to rural communities to fulfill the needs of Arkansas.”

Covering such a wide swath of veterinary expertise doesn’t happen easily or cheaply, which is why Green said the school will be looking to establish working relationships with a variety of partners, everything from practicing veterinarians to animal shelters to the Little Rock Zoo. These relationships, combined with the school’s aggressive scheduling model, looks to cut into Arkansas’ vet deficit quickly.

“One of the things that’s going to be a little bit different is this is going to be a three-year program,” Green said. “We are working in a profession right now that doesn’t have enough veterinarians. So, our program is going to be year-round. They won’t have summer breaks, so we can get them through more quickly. Same nine semesters but accomplished in three years.”

The elephant in the room, as it were, is why Lyon College would take on the task of launching a veterinary school, a project even the state’s land grant university won’t tackle.

“People have asked, ‘Why Lyon College? It’s a small liberal arts college. Why put a veterinary school there?’ I think there are so many reasons for that,” Green said. “One is, it is private and that makes them very nimble. It makes them have the capability of instituting innovative change in a very efficient and rapid way. Interestingly, President Melissa Taverner has an interest, a very sincere interest in this being an innovative college and supporting an innovative school.

“Arkansas students now go out of state and the state of Arkansas helps them do that. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep them home if they would like to stay home?”

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