National Veterinary Scholars Symposium Virtual, Real Success

Jeff Douglas or Jeanne Johnson
Phone: 202/371-9195, x144
Email: or

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 12, 2020 — After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the in-person 2020 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium (NVSS) scheduled for San Diego in July, the AAVMC and conference sponsors quickly retooled to present the important meeting as a virtual experience.

With support from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, the AAVMC presented the Veterinary Summer Scholars Program August 4-6, 2020 and it was a resounding success. This year’s theme was “Disruptive Innovation” and the meeting featured student research presentations from across the spectrum of biomedical science as well as three major keynote presentations focused on COVID-19.

About 770 students, faculty mentors and others registered for the event, which annually highlights the essential role of scientific research in veterinary medicine, provides veterinary students with valuable first-hand experience in conducting and presenting research, and highlights the opportunity to pursue careers in biomedical research. The conference included 45 student poster sessions over the three-day event, which were made possible by 30 faculty volunteers representing 14 different institutions.

During welcoming remarks, AAVMC CEO Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe stressed the value of gaining hands-on experience and familiarity with the scientific method that participating students acquired through their summer research programs. 

“Nobody expects that all of you are going to pursue careers in research,” he said. “But having gone through this program every one of you now has a better understanding of hypothesis-driven research and the biomedical research enterprise.”

“If veterinarians fail to embrace reason and science, if we let our biases influence patient care, we contribute to an environment in which important decisions are based on emotion and intuition not evidence,” he continued. “This undermines the basis of veterinary medicine and weakens our profession.”

Maccabe concluded his remarks with some advice for the students. “Be curious, not complacent, be skeptical but not cynical,” he said, “And keep on wondering because the world is a wonderful place and you’re about to embark upon a wonderful career.”

Students participating in the program conduct a hypothesis-driven research project developed jointly by the student scholar and faculty mentor which is typically conducted over an 8-12 week period during the summer. The results are then shared in the end-of-summer research symposium.

“The Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program and end-of-summer symposium provide students with real-world exposure to research, many new collaborative relationships with mentors and peers, and the chance to take their intellectual curiosity a step further,” said Caroline Belmont, Head of US Animal Health Innovation for Boehringer Ingelheim.

“Through great collaboration and the agility of the participating veterinary schools, students and supporting organizations, we successfully recreated this experience in a virtual manner this year, in the face of great uncertainty and many logistical challenges,” Belmont continued. “We hope that this year’s students walk away from this experience with greater resilience, confidence and inspiration to tackle the many remaining challenges we must face in animal and human health.”

Over 500 student posters featured topics that ranged from wildlife conservation and microbiology to timely subjects such as virology and COVID-19 pandemic access to care. Students presented their research findings utilizing a digital scientific poster platform which allowed them to record their verbal presentation, add features such as embedded video into their digital poster and interact directly with interested attendees. Topic-based poster sessions also allowed students to present live and field questions about their research. See a complete list of abstracts here

Three distinguished keynote speakers presented remarks during the virtual symposium. 

  • Dr. Jonna Mazet, professor of epidemiology and disease ecology in the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine spoke on “Using One Health to Provide a COVID Pandemic Blueprint for Hope.” Dr. Mazet’s work focuses on global health problem solving for emerging infectious diseases and conservation challenges.
  • Dr. Angela Bosco-Lauth, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, spoke on “SARS-CoV-2 Host Range Studies.” Dr. Bosco-Lauth’s work focuses on zoonotic infectious diseases with an emphasis on disease pathogenesis, ecology and transmission.
  • Dr. Erin Sorrell, a member of the Center for Global Health Science & Security and an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University spoke on “The Importance of Veterinarians in Research and the Response to Emerging Infectious Diseases.”

The rapid pivot required to present a virtual conference as a result of the pandemic was a perfect example of the innovation and agility required to advance science, pointed out Boehringer Ingelheim’s Head of Global Innovation Animal Health Dr. Eric Haaksma in his welcoming remarks. “In this symposium we bring together the researchers from academia, government and industry, and we believe that that is the key to future disruptive innovation.”

The decision to cancel the existing in-person meeting in San Diego and convert to an online format was made in April, according to AAVMC Director for Professional Development Caroline Cantner. The decision to cancel the in-person meeting and offer a virtual opportunity was a major undertaking that required a great deal of effort and planning on behalf of the conference organizers and sponsors, including the University of California San Diego and Western University of Health Sciences, the host institutions for the original in-person conference. Cantner also expressed appreciation to the  American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for assisting with the abstract process and abstract booklet.

“While we initially did not know how many students would be able to participate, it is overwhelming to see the number of students and programs who joined us for the virtual symposium,” said Cantner. “The success of this event speaks to the critical importance of veterinary medical research and the commitment of the veterinary research community to the next generation of researchers.”

The next NVSS will be hosted by Iowa State University in 2021. Questions about these events can be sent to Dr. Cantner at

The member institutions of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) promote and protect the health and wellbeing of people, animals and the environment by advancing the profession of veterinary medicine and preparing new generations of veterinarians to meet the evolving needs of a changing world. Founded in 1966, the AAVMC represents more than 40,000 faculty, staff and students across the global academic veterinary medical community. Our member institutions include veterinary medical colleges and schools in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand as well as departments of veterinary science and departments of comparative medicine in the U.S.