Mayor Winfield interview
Dr Julie Funk, DVM
Dean of the UA College of Veterinary Medicine
by Kevin Boerup
I was able to sit down with Dr. Julie Funk, who very graciously granted an interview so our readers could get to know her as well as the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Nestled almost in the foothills of Pusch Ridge, the campus of the UofA College of Veterinary Medicine is Oro Valley’s first institution of higher learning. Sitting just across from Steam Pump Ranch on North Oracle Road, the College occupies two separate buildings and about 33,000 ft2 of office and learning space. Situated close to the Innovation Park area, which is also home to other high tech bioscience companies like Sanofi and Roche Diagnostics, and the soon-to-be Leonardo Electronics firm.
The UofA budgeted $8 Million dollars to upgrade, outfit and prepare the buildings to become the nations 31st veterinary school and it shows. During my tour, I saw well equipped labs as well as high tech classrooms (big flat screens and electronic white boards), solo and group study areas, with places to sit, study, converse or eat.
“The University of Arizona Oro Valley campus will serve to integrate programs related to veterinary and human medicine, public health, social sciences, ecological and environmental sciences, all focused on addressing today’s complex health challenges,” said then-UofA President Ann Weaver Hart, MA, Ph.D, during the announcement in September 2015.
Dr. Funk is the first Dean of the College and she has the experience, drive and know-how to make this campus a gem in these Pusch Ridge foothills.
Dr. Funk says she was interested in farm animal health at a very young age, having been raised on a pig farm in Michigan. The professional person she saw most often was the local veterinarian. “He was very important for the well being of our animals as well as for our family’s financial well being, since pigs were our ‘cash product’.”
“The veterinarian was a leader in our community and was a great mentor to me. I was one of those geeky science kids. So I was either going to grow up to be a vet or a high school biology teacher. In essence I have ended up doing both.”
Dr. Funk practiced veterinary medicine for a few years in northwest Indiana. She then went back to school at the University of Illinois in Champagne/Urbana where she received a Master’s degree. She relates that it was here that she realized she loved research combined with teaching. To pursue that further, she attended North Carolina State University and received a teaching degree. Her research area was in the Epidemiology of Food Borne Pathogens. Those nasty pathogens that can get into our food supply and then make people sick.
She relates that her first experience serving in a faculty position was at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and later at her alma mater (Michigan State) where she directed an online Master’s of Science and Food Safety and was able to continue her research.
It was while she was serving as an Associate Dean at Michigan State, that she saw that the UofA was thinking about opening a College of Veterinary Medicine with this new and innovate approach to teaching. “I signed up to get updates on the program. Then I saw that they were looking for a Dean of the College. I was totally satisfied with my position at Michigan State, but was every so curious about this teaching approach. So I applied for the job.”
“I was intrigued about the challenge of starting a new college, from the ground up.” The earliest reference to a UofA College of Veterinary Medicine was over 50 years ago. So this has been a very long journey and many people have had their hands in its progress and bringing it to fruition.
The program has been up and running for two years now. (We are not counting the lost covid years). “I was hired in early 2019 to get things going, and then covid hit.”
This program is a very demanding program and runs year round. There are 110 students matriculated each year with a total of 330 possible at any given time. “We are getting ready to add our last 110 students this fall. The class of 2023 (August) will be our first graduating class and they are beginning their last year here, which is the most exciting year. All their clinicals, live surgeries and internships will be happening this year.”
There are only 110 total possible spots for students each year and with over 1800 applicants to chose from, there are a list of prerequisites each applicant will need under their belt before they are ready for the program. “The bar is not set low, yet it’s not set too high. We call it a holistic approach to admissions. We take into account many factors that we hope will help contribute to the student’s success here, besides grades in science classes. But this is, after all, a college of medicine and it is a demanding program.”
Demand for DVMs
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There has been a shortage of Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs) for over 30 years now. Especially in food animal medicine in rural areas. The recent workforce shortages have only exacerbated this shortage. The bright side? Salary and compensation for DVM’s is rising dramatically (simple supply and demand). The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual income for a DVM in 2021 is $100,000.
“However, with today’s extreme workforce demands, practices are already recruiting our first and second year students, with some having signed letters of intent. There are some students reporting that their starting salary is approaching $150,000. That’s good for our students! There is no better time to be in this field. We are in an employee’s market and salary pressures will continue to rise.”
That is a relief to know. The DVM degree offered at the college, is not an inexpensive degree. With the previous college classes needed to qualify, and the three year program here, even an Arizona resident could be looking at anywhere from $180,000 to the mid $200,000s to achieve their degree. But the college boasts that they will be ready to hit the road running in any veterinary practice in the country.
The UofA College of Veterinary Medicine, under Dean Funk’s leadership, will continue to shine and grow into an even more valuable gem to our community.