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New joint VMD/ML program allows students to earn both degrees in four years

March 28, 2022

The dual degrees may be earned at little to no additional cost to a VMD student.

Written by Leanna Tilitei C’23

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Master in Law Program and Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine are excited to announce an agreement that facilitates cross-disciplinary studies in their respective schools through the new VMD/ML Program.

Through the  program, students may earn both a VMD and an ML or Certificate in Law from the Law School in four years. Moreover, the dual degrees may be earned at little to no additional cost to the VMD student.

The ML Program was launched by the Law School in 2014 to enable professionals, academics, and graduate students from across disciplines to inform their important work and scholarship with legal education. Over the past eight years, the ML Program has welcomed students from every school on campus to take Law School classes and earn a Certificate in Law or the ML degree alongside of their primary degrees.

Catharine Restrepo L'93, Executive Director, ML Program Catharine Restrepo L'93, Executive Director, ML Program“Our first students in the ML program included a Wharton MBA, an MD student from Penn Med, and a School of Arts and Sciences’ Master’s student,” said Catharine Restrepo L’93, the Executive Director of the ML Program. “Today they are enjoying robust careers in their fields, informed with a knowledge of the legal foundations, instruments, concepts, and skills they learned in the ML Program.” 

Restrepo added, “The ML degree is an ideal pairing with many degrees. Because the law impacts every field, students across disciplines derive tremendous benefit from learning the law that impacts their work and scholarship. Logistically it works well too since the ML degree’s flexible design enables students to plan their ML coursework around other, more rigidly structured primary degree requirements outside of the Law School.”

Penn Vet’s Dr. Jenni Punt V’88, GR’91, Professor of Immunology and Associate Dean for One Health, spearheaded the creation of the ML dual degree program with One Health’s Program Director, Chipo Siantumbu SPP’22.

The specialized curriculum will better equip veterinary students enrolled in the VMD/ML program to respond to policy-driven matters like food supply challenges, bioterrorism, and pandemic-related problems. Students will gain a solid understanding of how the U.S. legal system functions, exposing them to new ways of thinking about the complex issues that impact animals, humans, and their environments. The Program teaches students legal fundamentals and allows them to customize the experience through electives, including those offered via the JD program.

Veterinarians trained in these programs will gain insights into issues and approaches that will affect their own practice, the industries they enter, the clients they serve and patients they treat. By attending classes with graduate students, faculty and staff from other disciplines, they become part of a rich and uniquely interdisciplinary network of colleagues.

“It is really important to us at the Vet School to be involved in these cross-professional, problem-solving arenas. We never work on just one species. You don’t have the luxury of saying ‘do no harm to one species’ because you have to worry about the well-being of both the owner and the animal. Then finances become a big part of it, and then, as far as the law goes, regulations become a big part of it. Trying to understand many of those boundaries is really important,” Punt said.

The VMD/ML dual degree was informally introduced in 2019, though until now,  veterinary students needed ad hoc approval to pursue an ML, requiring a rigorous process to convince academic advisors of their fit for the program and ability to handle the rigor. The formalized agreement makes this process easier and guarantees that students will graduate within the standard 4-year duration of the VMD program.

The dual degree has introduced two unique electives that fulfill requirements in both schools: “Animal Law and Ethics” through the Law School and “Veterinary Legal Issues” through Penn Vet.

“Before this agreement, there wasn’t really a guarantee that any of the classes in the Law School would have counted for the Vet Program and vice versa,” said Siantumbu. “By working very closely with our partners, we’ve been able to see how we can integrate the classes, so that it makes more sense to the students from an advising perspective. We’ve been able to compress from what would be an additional year, making it a five-year program, to keeping it as a four-year program, which is also a cost savings for the students.”

While the ML doesn’t allow VMD students to take the bar exam to practice law, the knowledge and skills they gain will enhance their ability to advocate for their profession, colleagues, clients, and patients.

Dr. Charlotte Lacroix L’97, who also holds a DVM, is an adjunct Penn Vet professor who teaches “Veterinary Legal Issues.” She also heads Veterinary Business Advisors, helping veterinarians navigate legal challenges, particularly in private practice. She will be a great resource for students in this dual program.

“We are thrilled with the exciting possibilities for VMD students resulting from this collaboration,” said Restrepo. “Our colleagues at Penn Vet are a model of collegiality, dedicated to their students’ needs and successes, creating this amazing opportunity for VMD students.”

Penn graduate students may apply to pursue a Master in Law degree or Certificate in Law, or they may enroll in ad hoc courses throughout the year. 

Learn more about applying for the Law School’s innovate ML Program.