It’s a typical Thursday morning in the small animal surgery ward at UW Veterinary Care (UWVC). A steady stream of four-legged, furry patients trots into the room, led on leashes by attentive technicians and students. They’re here to be examined and prepped for the day’s soft tissue surgeries.
At a table in one corner, a technician, resident, and surgeon have gathered around Zeus, an Akita mix puppy in need of an umbilical hernia repair. Zeus squirms and licks his way through their careful inspection as two students quietly observe. Moments later, word arrives that anesthesia is ready for Zeus. A technician scoops him into her steady arms and easily threads her way through orderly clusters of patients and practitioners.
Only a few weeks prior to this scene, the ward would not have handled so much traffic quite as well. Having undergone significant remodeling in summer 2016, which included rearranging workstations and eliminating redundant fixtures, the ward now makes better use of available space to welcome more patients comfortably and maximize staff efficiency. The remodel is a prime example of how UWVC is adapting to accommodate a rapidly growing caseload.
In 2015-16, for the third year in a row, UWVC handled a record number of patient visits, topping 26,500 in a facility built to handle 12,000; and, since 2012, demand for the clinic’s services has increased by more than 25 percent. But the hospital and those who work there have made every effort to minimize the effects of the space crunch and keep the focus on quality patient care, from retrofitting rooms and repurposing storage areas to simply adjusting admirably to the conditions they face each day.
“It’s a testament to the quality of our faculty, staff, and students that they are able to make accommodations within these circumstances so there’s no detrimental impact on our patients and clients,” says Ruthanne Chun DVM’91, associate dean for clinical affairs and UWVC’s director. “But with demand projected to reach 35,000 annual patient visits in the near future, these measures can only go so far.”
To further complicate matters, technology is outpacing the infrastructure of the clinic, which was constructed in 1983 when computers were not yet pervasive and high-tech medical devices not as advanced or numerous. And these space and utilities issues extend to the rest of the Veterinary Medicine Building, from instructional areas to faculty offices to biomedical research laboratories.
Still, the remodeled surgery ward is a preview of what could be a broader transformation at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine as it meets these challenges with a new building expansion campaign themed Animals Need Heroes Too. Its goal is to raise funds for a new, state-of-the-art facility connected to the current building and significant enhancements for existing infrastructure. The project will enhance the patient and client experience at UWVC while upgrading the school’s facilities for teaching and learning and expanding space for research on diseases that threaten the globe.
“We’ve done so much to improve animal and human health despite the limitations we face in our current surroundings,” says Dean Mark D. Markel. “And though we’re a relatively young school, we still rank in the top five of all U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine. It thrills me to imagine what more we could accomplish with room to grow.”
The Case for Expansion
When the Veterinary Medicine Building was constructed nearly 35 years ago, UWVC housed 10 specialties. Since then, the hospital’s expertise has grown to encompass more than double that — the most specialties of any clinic in the state — while the footprint has changed very little. To make room for this expanding roster of specialists, and to help them collaborate more effectively on complicated patient cases, the campaign calls for doubling the size of the small animal hospital.
This expansion will create space for more exam rooms, a centralized diagnostic imaging center that brings a trailer-bound MRI unit inside the building, a cancer center that encompasses the radiation and medical oncology services, a larger emergency and critical care unit with improved housing for patient recovery, and an expanded waiting area that includes dedicated space for cats and small exotic animals.
“This project will reduce wait times, especially for some of our most in-demand specialty services, and create a more comfortable place for patients and clients,” says Chun.
The plan also calls for significant improvements to UWVC’s Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital. This includes a covered arena that provides year-round access to lameness and neurological exams, regardless of the weather, as well as a bigger and safer isolation facility, a high-demand service that will be the only one of its kind in the state.
“The expansion also benefits Wisconsin’s dairy industry by improving the overall clinical education of our students,” says Keith Poulsen DVM’04, PhD’12, clinical assistant professor of large animal medicine. “This state is blessed with a very talented pool of dairy veterinarians, and with better facilities, we can continue to support and augment it in new ways.”
In addition to transforming clinical care at UWVC, the building expansion will bolster the school’s training of future veterinarians and clinical specialists, partly by facilitating more patient visits. More cases means exposure to more species, breeds, diseases, and conditions and, therefore, better preparation for practice. To encourage collaborative learning, the expansion plan also includes new small group discussion environments and special areas for hospital rounds, which are often relegated to hallways today.
“The SVM plays a major role in producing Wisconsin’s veterinarians — we’ve trained more than half of the practitioners in the state,” says Lynn Maki, associate dean for student academic affairs. “So these improvements are absolutely vital for ensuring Wisconsin has the best of the best caring for companion animals, maintaining dairy herd health, safeguarding public health, and making new scientific discoveries.”
As with instruction, the SVM’s space constraints also extend into the realm of research. In addition to clinical studies on new treatments and novel surgical techniques, the school conducts more than 75 percent of the infectious disease research on the UW-Madison campus. SVM faculty and staff have made major breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of everything from Ebola to influenza to Zika. But most of the school’s laboratory facilities are aging and cramped.
“Despite our challenges, in the last four years, we have doubled the amount of research dollars we bring in annually,” says Dale Bjorling, professor of surgical sciences and associate dean for research and graduate training. “This is one indication among many of the school’s quality. But we’re running out of room to work on some critical, potentially life-saving projects, and this puts future grants and research at risk.”
That’s why the second floor of the building expansion will include eight new research laboratories for studying naturally occurring diseases in animals and humans. And to help SVM scientists stay a step ahead of the next pandemic, the third floor will triple the amount of space the school has committed to infectious disease studies.
“With all of these advantages taken together, it’s clear that our patients and clients will benefit greatly from a successful campaign,” says Markel. “But so will our students, who are the future of the field. So will veterinarians and animal lovers all over the state. So will people throughout Wisconsin and across the globe.”
Gaining Support, Making Progress
Given how many lives are touched by the SVM, it’s no surprise that the Animals Need Heroes Too campaign has garnered a broad base of support. In fact, the school has already raised more than $11 million of a $40 million goal. Campaign leaders are hoping for a $75 million commitment from the state to round out the projected $115 million cost of the project.
A good portion of the funds already raised came from lifelong animal lovers and UW-Madison alums Karen Walsh and Jim Berbee. In summer 2016, they were inspired to offer a $3 million matching gift toward the building campaign, over $1 million of which has already been committed.
“When you learn about advances the SVM has made in cancer treatment, orthopedics, surgery, and so many other areas, you understand why people flock to bring their animals there for expert care,” says Walsh, who is co-chair of the Animals Need Heroes Too campaign. “And the school’s research leadership is astounding. The future of human medicine is so connected to animal medicine, and here at UW-Madison we have this amazing place where it’s all happening — for the benefit of everyone.”
The leadership of the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA), a statewide organization that advocates and promotes veterinary medicine, has also lent its support to the campaign. According to WVMA Past President John Been DVM’88, who is a practicing large animal veterinarian, an expansion will boost the school’s already strong contributions to the state as a top-notch and readily available referral resource for private practitioners, an invaluable specialty and emergency care center for animal owners, and a vital collaborator in finding solutions to public health concerns.
“Additional facilities for state-of-the-art research, instructional and administrative space, and of course, much-needed clinical space for the animal hospital, will catapult an already world-class veterinary medical school and teaching hospital into new levels of excellence,” says Been.
Regina Millner, president of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, was first introduced to the SVM’s wide range of impactful work when she brought her grandchildren to the school for a campus program called Grandparent’s University. She has been a supporter ever since. To her, the SVM is critical to UW-Madison’s tradition of solving public health issues through interdisciplinary collaborations involving the School of Medicine and Public Health, College of Engineering, and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“Just take a look at what the School of Veterinary Medicine is doing at the important interface of animal and human diseases, finding ways to fight viruses, like Zika,” says Millner. “And through its work with large animals, the school also supports the dairy industry and agribusiness, which are critically important to the economy of the state. And they’re doing this in a facility that’s more than a third of a century old. It’s clear an upgrade is overdue, and this is the perfect time for clients who have benefitted from the school’s clinical services, for alumni who have benefitted from an excellent education, for corporations that have benefitted from the school’s cutting-edge research, to show their support.”
Find out more information about the work we’re doing and how you can be a hero, contact Pat Bowdish at firstname.lastname@example.org or Heidi Kramer at email@example.com.