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Zebrafish are seen in tanks at the Penn State College of Medicine Zebrafish Functional Genomic Core. Several fish are seen in detail at left in focus, with an out-of-focus background of their tank and neighboring tanks framing them at right.

Laboratory Animal Medicine MS

Laboratory Animal Medicine MS Program Details

The Laboratory Animal Medicine MS degree is open to graduate veterinarians (DVM or VMD) who wish to further their study in research.

The program, which is generally completed in three years, is research-oriented and requires a minimum of 30 credit hours in the subject, including thesis research. Although the program follows the general pattern laid down by the graduate school, the requirements are sufficiently flexible to permit students to adapt them to their particular interests and needs.

Curriculum Overview

Three years are normally required to satisfy the requirements for the Laboratory Animal Medicine residency and MS degree.

Required Courses

  • CMED501 Biology and Care of Laboratory Animals (3 credits)
  • CMED 503 Laboratory Animal Genetics (3 credits)
  • CMED 507 Techniques of Animal Experimentation (3 credits)
  • CMED 515 Experimental Surgery of Laboratory Animals (3 credits)
  • CMED 530 Diseases of Laboratory Animals I (3 credits)
  • CMED 531 Diseases of Laboratory Animals II (3 credits)
  • CMED 596 Laws, Regulations and Guidelines (3 credits)
  • CMED 597 Special Topics (1 credit)
  • CMED 600 Thesis Research (minimum 9 credits)

In addition, students must complete 4 semesters of Colloquium, CMED 590 (1 credit) and IBIOS 591 Ethics in the Life Sciences (1 credit).

Students may also elect to complete an independent study in a selected topic (CMED 596) or other courses offered outside the department or outside the college with the approval of the training program director.

Other coursework may be taken if approved in advance by the Chair of the Department of Comparative Medicine and, if necessary, the course director or director of the respective program. Available courses are not limited to the College of Medicine, but may also be taken at Penn State Harrisburg, University Park, or other Commonwealth campuses of Penn State or the World Campus. In some cases there may be prerequisite requirements and additional tuition expenses. Travel arrangements to other campuses will be the responsibility of the student.

Other Opportunities

A four-week rotation at NIH is available to provide experience with non-human primates and other species. In general, this rotation will be scheduled during May – July of the first year. Additional rotation opportunities may be scheduled during the training program. Residents will be responsible for scheduling the dates and other details of the rotations. The department will provide a housing allowance for the external rotations.

Year-By-Year Overview

Year 1

During the first few months before formal classes begin in the fall, the student becomes familiar with the basic principles of the various laboratory techniques. Particular emphasis is given to the techniques and instruments to be used in the student’s research project.

The students also participate in laboratory animal handling, sample collection, and drug administration techniques.

For the MS degree, a minor in an academic discipline is also required. Approved minors have been established in Neural & Behavioral Sciences, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Cellular & Molecular Physiology, and Microbiology & Immunology. Although a student does not necessarily become proficient in the area of the minor discipline, it does add to the breadth of knowledge in a field related to laboratory animal medicine. The majority of the students do thesis research projects in the area of their minors; that is, they use the knowledge of the minor discipline to approach a problem in laboratory animal medicine.

Year 2

The second year of the program emphasizes clinical skills and techniques, as well as research activity. The only formal course that is required during this year is one core class that is taught every other year.

Weekly grand rounds are held to discuss clinical material in depth. The students are responsible for presenting clinical data, differential diagnostic capabilities, and the results of the laboratory and/or necropsy studies. The faculty members join in discussing the case.

Weekly slide conferences with the veterinary pathologist allow students to achieve proficiency in histopathology and to permit them to become acquainted with numerous disease conditions of animals and humans.

During the second year, students acquire residency experience and professional competence in the various areas of laboratory animal medicine. Each of these areas is organized so that the student’s responsibility can be increased gradually. A faculty member discusses rounds with each student daily including the diagnosis and handling of diseases and assigns responsibility according to the individual student’s development.

The student participates in many aspects of laboratory animal medicine during his/her residency assignments, including:

  • Administration (e.g., personnel management and policies, cost analysis, budget, and grant reviews)
  • Animal experimentation (e.g., handling of acute, chronic, and infectious diseases, quarantine procedures, and radioisotopes)
  • Breeding colonies (e.g., genetics, reproductive cytology and physiology)
  • Experimental surgery (e.g., surgical techniques and postsurgical care
  • Laboratory medicine (e.g., clinical chemistry, hematology, and microbiology)
  • Necropsies (including histopathology)
  • Diagnostic radiology

Although all students follow the same general program, the selection of research project and actual time spent on various assignments will vary according to their ultimate career objective.

Year 3

The primary goal of the third year of the Laboratory Animal Medicine MS is research.

Research is viewed by the department as an integral part of graduate education, i.e.; the intellectual stimulation of research in the biomedical sciences enhances the student’s scholarly development.

A wide variety of research projects is being conducted in the Department of Comparative Medicine, including the development of animal models, research on analgesia and anesthesia, environmental factors, and infectious diseases of laboratory animals. Members of the department also make substantial contributions in collaborative research studies with faculty from other departments.

Each graduate student works under the supervision of a graduate school faculty member of the College of Medicine, who may or may not be a member of the Department of Comparative Medicine. It is felt that the student’s own interest, not just those available in the department, should dictate the course of research followed. The selection of a thesis advisor is in accordance with the student’s research project, and the thesis committee includes at least one member from the Department of Comparative Medicine.

Research Requirement

Each student must successfully complete a research project which includes submission of a written thesis, preparation of a manuscript suitable for submission for publication as a first author paper, and a final presentation of their research work to their thesis committee, fellow residents and department faculty.


What are residents’ responsibilities for emergency work?

Residents are responsible for sharing on-call duties for the Animal Resources Program with clinical veterinary faculty. Evening emergencies are rare (2 or fewer per year).

Are there vacation days allowed?

Yes. Residents are granted ten vacation days per year. Vacation days are arranged in advance with the clinical veterinarian and the Department Chair in order to minimize the resident missing important educational experiences.

Are any meeting expenses covered?

Travel and expenses are paid for one national meeting in the second and third year of the program (AALAS, APV). Complementary registration is provided for annual Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA) meetings. Local and regional meetings are also available.

How many students are enrolled in the program at one time?

Up to two students are enrolled each year with a maximum of four residents enrolled in the program.

What is the size of the animal care and use program at Penn State College of Medicine?

The Penn State College of Medicine Animal Resources Program consists of 68,000 square feet of vivarium space, housing an approximate daily census of 14,000. Types of housing: conventional, barrier, quarantine, and specialized biohazard housing.

With which species will residents gain experience?

The centralized vivaria house mainly rodents, particularly genetically-modified mice. Additional species housed include zebrafish, rabbits and farm animals. Partnerships with a variety of organizations provide residents unique experiences with diverse species. 

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