Swine veterinarians are a unique breed. It doesn’t matter whether they’re associated with extension, or doing research or teaching at a college, or involved in a large multi-vet practice or animal health company, or they’re simply a good ol’ country vet working on his or her own with just a few clients, swine vets are some of the best people in the world.

I’ve been going to the annual meeting of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians for more years than I can remember. Not only do I learn a lot, but I’m so impressed with the people I meet. Over this time period, at least five common attributes have become clear.

1.  Inquisitive
Swine veterinarians are never satisfied with the status quo. One comment I heard repeatedly at the most recent meeting was “just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean we should continue doing it that way.” Dr. Jeff Zimmerman gave the Howard Dunne lecture this year, and he quoted Sir John Lubbock: “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” These individuals make a habit of looking beyond the obvious, and they relish the chance to test new hypotheses.

2.  Dedicated
Even the icons of the veterinarian community will be the first to tell you “they can do better.” Objectivity and the lack of bias are overriding traits. They want to do right by their customers and they recognize how their profession has changed. With larger operations, more is being demanded of them, and they’re rising to the challenge.

3.  Committed to Continual Improvement
Dr. Matt Turner gave the Alex Hogg lecture this year, and in it he said, “We have the opportunity to improve health management practices: We all can improve our skills and decisions.” Dr. Alex Hogg, who was beloved by his peers and admired by producers, was a practicing veterinarian for 20 years before going back to school to get an advanced degree and ultimately becoming a staff member at the University of Nebraska. These are just a few examples of how all the veterinarians I know feel about their calling.

4.  Constant Educators
Swine veterinarians positively glow when they talk about their students, or the younger veterinarians in their clinics. Some will tell you the most rewarding part of being a being a veterinarian is bringing young people into the profession. They serve as mentors for young women and men, and they’ve opened doors that may have remained closed in other professions. They have the ability to put complicated research into terms even the least of us can understand.

5.  Passionate
No matter what they do, they do it with 100% commitment. The excitement for their profession comes through every time you talk to them. They care deeply for their customers and their ultimate clients – the pigs. Dr. Tom Burkgren, Dr. Sue Schulties and Dr. Harry Snelson lead the organization with the same passion as their veterinarian members. They not only carefully implement the wishes of the membership, they also guide with integrity.

Obviously, I have great admiration for the people who have devoted their professional lives to the betterment of the pork industry, and am proud to call many of them friends.