Special Feature
Ready to change
the veterinary world

Professor Vanessa Barrs became Acting Dean of the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences (JCC) in 2022. With the first cohort of Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (BVM) students completing their clinical programmes and embarking on their professional journey in May 2023, she shares her vision for the College’s strategic development, locally and globally.

Prior to joining CityU in 2019, Professor Barrs was a senior academic and leader at the University of Sydney’s School of Veterinary Science in Australia with multiple international advisory roles. She is a distinguished specialist of feline medicine and is internationally renowned for her veterinary infectious diseases research. An advocate for companion animal health, she provides strong leadership for JCC’s One Health concept as well as interdisciplinary research and policy development, with the COVID-19 outbreak clearly demonstrating their vital importance.

By implementing these approaches, the College has made remarkable advances in the past decade and a half, starting from the strong collaborative partnership put in place from 2009 with Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine to plan and offer a world-class veterinary programme to train high-calibre professionals.

For the inaugural class of 11 BVM students, who began their studies in 2017, the Cornell University collaboration has enabled them to gain not only veterinary knowledge but advanced clinical experience by mixing with Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Throughout their rigorous six-year training programme, combining problem-based learning, with extensive workplace training, the BVM students have fully equipped themselves with the clinical competencies needed to practise veterinary medicine.

Putting research into practice

In Hong Kong, the College actively engages with industry and the community to transfer new knowledge to society and to translate discoveries and innovations into products, practices, and policies for the benefit of animal, human and environmental health.

One example is a planned community outreach project to provide veterinary healthcare for socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and offer a holistic learning experience for students. In addition, Professor Barrs said that “More high impact research to address key challenges faced by society will be one of our strong focus areas. This will be achieved by fostering more interdisciplinary and collaborative research within and external to the College, enhancing research grant performance, strengthening the PhD curriculum, and nurturing a culture of innovation, translation and entrepreneurship.”

Go BVM pioneers!

“I also have no doubt that our first cohort of veterinary students will make enormous contributions to advancing animal health and welfare both locally and globally, and some will become international leaders in the field,” Professor Barrs said.

Given a global shortage of veterinarians, including in Hong Kong, completing the programme opens the door to a diversity of career choices. “To our BVM pioneers, I say congratulations on your momentous achievement! Six years is a long time to study, but I know that you have developed skills that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Don’t be strangers and remember your many supporters here at CityU,” she added.

The first cohort of BVM students at the commencement ceremony on 11 May 2023, together with Professor Vanessa Barrs (fourth left), Professor Way Kuo, then CityU President (second right) and Dr Ron Kwok, Director of Alumni Relations Office (first right).

CityU Farm milestone

With CityU Farm in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, going into full operation from November 2022, the University achieved another milestone in its promotion of veterinary medicine. The farm’s state-of-the-art technologies and facilities enable it to be sustainably operated, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in animal husbandry and farm management in an environmentally friendly way.

“Future BVM students will be able to, almost literally, grasp the training opportunities it offers ‘by the horns’,” Professor Barrs said.

(From left) Professor Pedro Melendez, Clinical Professor of Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences (VCS), Dr Joyce Ip, Dairy Farm Officer, Mr Paul Ko, General Manager of Trappist Dairy, Professor Vanessa Barrs, Dean of JCC; Dr Eryl Done, Dairy Farm Manager, and Dr Eloi Guarnieri, Clinical Assistant Professor of VCS, officiated at the opening ceremony of the CityU Milk Product Counter.

Shining internationally

As part of the College’s vision, it aspires to become one of the top 20 veterinary schools within 20 years of achieving international accreditation. “It’s an ambitious goal. Yet given our strategic partnership with Cornell University and our strong foundation, it is highly achievable,” Professor Barrs said.

The College will also continue its outreach to the Greater Bay Area and expand teaching and research activities to mainland China as part of its mission to improve animal health and welfare in the region. “With the first cohort of BVM students completing their degree, the College’s establishment phase is now complete and a new phase of maturation and growth is underway,” Professor Barrs explained.

Meanwhile, the experience gained in preparing for international accreditation for the BVM programme has put the College in a good position to obtain accreditation from the Institute of Biomedical Science (UK) and Medical Lab Technologists Board (HK) for the JCC BSc Biomedical Sciences programme.

“I am confident that with the close collaboration between our academic departments, including biomedical sciences and neurosciences, the College will see even greater success and breakthroughs in the near future,” Professor Barrs said.

BVM pioneers share some of their special learning experiences and memories, as well as aspirations for the future.

My six years of study has been a fruitful adventure overall. My most unforgettable period was the full-year rotation. This was nerve-wracking at first, given the difference with studying. Yet, together, we managed to accomplish many objectives and trained ourselves to think like clinicians, echoing the part I really like about veterinary medicine – logical thinking and problem solving. If the chance arises, I am planning to apply for overseas internships to further broaden my horizons and skillset as a clinician.

Toby Chu Ka-to

Looking back over the past six years, it has been a challenging journey but I am grateful to have had a supportive group of classmates throughout the tough times. Having a clinical semester in Cornell University was definitely a highlight, particularly performing my very first cat spay together with American students – a unique memory. A truly rewarding semester during which I not only learnt different treatment approaches but also experienced a different culture.

Gabrielle Ho Yick-hey

(From left) Gabrielle Ho, Rachel Lau and Toby Chu at the Veterinary Medical Centre. The trio are among the first cohort of BVM students.

My studies were full of ups and downs. But I made several close friends through the programme and they made everything much more bearable and memorable. When exams were approaching and I felt overwhelmed, studying became less of a lonely process with my friends, knowing we were all in this together. I am open to all opportunities. My plan is to start off in a practice for small animals first to consolidate my skills and knowledge before exploring further options.

Rachel Lau Wing-han

I chose veterinary medicine as my major for a simple reason – I love animals, and always have since a young age. It is the job of vets to try to alleviate animals’ illnesses and pain. Although six years of studying for the BVM was like a marathon, I never forgot my initial goal of helping animals. Indeed, my love and respect for them has grown exponentially over time, and I believe it will continue to grow. There's no better feeling than watching your patients recover and become themselves again after treatment.

Savina Mo Yuen-man

Savina Mo during general practice for dermatology.