At 44, Britt Conklin, DVM, has earned professional acclaim throughout the equine, farrier and veterinary communities and possesses a rather impressive curriculum vitae. Most recently, though, his career has come full circle as he returns to his undergraduate alma mater, Texas Tech University, to help create the next generation of veterinarians.
“It was not something I was specifically seeking out,” Conklin said of the administrative opportunity. “I’ve always been proud of that organization and, as I learned more about that program itself and the model and the mission, I became more and more interested, just as an advisory person to help the school develop.”
It wasn’t long, however, before it became clear that Conklin’s capacity to serve the first new veterinary school to open in Texas in the last 100 years exceeded the role of advisor.
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“My real passion started as I began to reflect on my own education. I started out just giving some advice and, before long, because of my background, especially knowing lots and lots of practices [from] traveling and knowing lots and lots of veterinarians, it seemed fitting for me to take over their clinical programs part of the curriculum.”
Texas Tech’s main campus is in Lubbock, but the new veterinary school is being constructed in Amarillo, where the university already operates a medical campus. Where schools in pharmacy and health already exist, the new veterinary school is being constructed without delay.
“So, we have a neat, collaborative, working unit we call One Health, which would include animals and people and the livestock that support people. We’ll also have, just a few miles away, what’s called the Mariposa Station, and that is our large animal teaching facility. So, it would look more like barns and an arena, some teaching laboratories and classrooms that are a little more large-animal focused.”
The school, which aims to be operational by the fall of 2021, will differ from most veterinary schools in that, following three years of intensive classroom, laboratory and field time, students will then spend their fourth year working in clinics that have partnered with the school.
“The historic models of school,” Conklin said, “are great for residents and interns, but they’re not that great for a fourth-year student. In a teaching hospital, you almost stand three or four deep behind a resident, behind an intern, behind clinicians, and you really don’t get to see or do a lot. And, the other thing is, you’re oftentimes looking at odd zebras that are referred in that no other veterinarian could figure out. So, that last year, we send students to partnering practices that have been ‘vetted’ by the AVMA Council on Education, and they learn in those practices.”
The model also allows for Conklin to continue practicing.
“That’s what’s really neat. I’m very specialized. I do mostly sports medicine and podiatry. We will offer that as an elective rotation in their fourth year [for the] student who has some interest [to] refine their skill. I’m happy about that because I want to stay current and I still want to provide a service and train students that have that interest.”
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Conklin also has an interest in one day finding his way back to a competitive team roping arena, but there’s a lot on his plate at the moment.
“There’s been some people who have put in a lot more work than I have up to this stage, but it begins to get heavy. It’s not just the physical facilities, but it’s developing faculty, it’s developing clinical partners, it’s being ready to be accredited, it’s developing educational materials. So, there’s a lot of moving parts.”
Nonetheless, Conklin remains enthusiastic not just for this new development in his own career, but especially for that first group of future veterinarians to graduate from the school.
“We’ll actually begin admissions for students this fall, pending our accreditation approval. But, we are going to have to do a really good job of admitting pioneering students this first round. They will have some unique opportunities because they will have access to the entire faculty, but they’ve got to be a little bit pioneering because we’re still going to be developing in some regards. Our biggest challenge will be to make sure this first group of students has kind of that entrepreneurial, pioneering spirit that is adaptable to the development of the school. And that will be an exciting time. There’s not that many veterinary schools in the United States and to develop one and build one and to be that first class is a neat thing.”
In the meantime, Conklin will be shouldering responsibilities ranging from hiring faculty to developing coursework and making sure the school earns its accreditation and, in his free time, spending time with his kids and maybe even roping a steer or two on the family ranch.