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Treating Equine Lymphoma

VMD/MSW Program


Because veterinarians interact closely with both animal patients and their human clients, they are uniquely privileged health care practitioners. These interactions offer numerous rewards, but at times the complexity of a clinical case can engender situations that challenge a veterinarian’s ability to manage.  Examples include:

  • A family, struggling with the decision to euthanize their dog or cat after a long and costly medical struggle
  • A client who is threatening violence
  • Farmer clients faced with gut-wrenching challenges to balance their own needs with those of their livestock
  • A colleague who might be dealing with suicidal thoughts
  • Myriad cases of animal abuse and neglect

Questions About the VMD/MSW?

Want more information about the VMD/MSW Program? Contact us today.


Why Combine a VMD with a MSW

Veterinarians may be highly skilled in their clinical areas of expertise, but may want to further develop their ability to manage the emotional responses that arise in human-animal relations.  For veterinary practitioners and their clients these may be a relentless burden of complicated cases that may not be improving, belligerent clients, or a farmer who is faced with culling the majority of his prize-winning herd can bring on compassion fatigue in the best veterinarians.

The unique skills developed in social workers can facilitate the difficult, involved conversations that can console and inform upset clients. And a veterinarian social worker will have a unique perspective and insights into the strains his or her colleagues may face on a day-to-day basis.  Their understanding of human and animal behavior can inform meaningful therapeutic programs and policy planning.


VMD/MSW Graduates: A Growing Need

Career Options for VMD/MSW graduates

Professional career opportunities include but are not limited to positions in:

  • Governmental organizations where social policies that address human and animal welfare are reviewed and developed
  • Health Care organizations and institutions where the human animal bond is a critical element in the welfare of patients (Veterinary Schools, Medical Schools, Hospices, Shelters)
  • Organizations that coordinate disaster relief efforts
  • Professional and academic organizations that directly serve the veterinary profession, which suffers from one of the highest suicide rates in the health professions

About the Program

The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine /Master of Social Work (VMD/MSW) program, a dual-degree opportunity offered in conjunction with Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), allows students to earn both degrees in five and a half years.

Through cross-counted electives and field placements that also fulfill veterinary school clinical electives students will be uniquely prepared to understand the symbiotic and parallel relationships between humans, their pets and livestock.

A total of up to eight courses are cross-counted between the two degrees and the advanced year of MSW field placement will fulfill at least two clinical elective requirements for the VMD. This integration allows students to complete both degrees in five years and one additional summer.  You can review an example of a course of study here. You may also download the VMD/MSW Course Grids PDF.

Students in the first two academic years of the dual degree will be enrolled as Penn Vet students. Four of their core experiences can fulfill MSW requirements and electives. Students will also have the option of completing one MSW requirement over the summer.

Students in the third and fourth academic years of the dual degree program will be enrolled in Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice and will fulfill all their field education requirements in full. Their advanced field placements will be in animal or health care focused sites.

VMD/MSW students will enter clinics in the summer after their second year, and continue their clinical training in the summer between their third and fourth years.

Students will return full time to the vet school in the fifth year, directly after completing their MSW program. They will complete their clinical training in the summer after their fifth year, graduating officially in December.

The Field Placement

VMD/MSW dual-degree students can complete their advanced year field placement at an agency whose scope includes social work with animals or a human health care institution. Examples of animal-related field placements include:

  • Gateway Horseworks
  • Urban Therapy Goats
  • Penn Vet New Bolton Center and, in the future, Ryan Hospital

This field placement will fulfill at least two Vet school clinical elective rotations.


How to Apply

Separate applications and acceptances are required for both the MSW and VMD degrees.  Students interested in the dual degree option will be required to articulate their interests and career aspirations in a separate essay and interview that will be evaluated in conjunction with all application material provided to Penn Vet, by the VMD/MSW advisory group.

Veterinary students may apply prior to entering vet school or during the fall of their first or second years.  Ideal applicants will be those with a mature understanding of the social work profession, a stellar academic track record, and a well-articulated intention of integrating social work with their professional careers.