Attracting and training swine veterinarians

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At first glance, ongoing consolidation in the swine industry suggests an abundance of swine veterinarians, right? Wrong. When you add retiring baby boomer veterinarians and the graduation of fewer numbers of food animal veterinarians into the equation -- the result is a real shortage of swine
veterinarians.

A quick look at American Association of Swine Veterinarian (AASV) membership numbers reinforces this trend. U. S. membership in 1995 stood at 1,400. In 2000, that number was 1,148. The latest figures for 2006 show an 11-year low of 857.

According to Pat Halbur, DVM, PhD, chair of the department of diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State University (ISU), a recent survey shows that Iowa alone needs at least 150 new food animal veterinarians over the next five years.

“When we're graduating 20 percent food animal veterinarians out of a class of 100, it’s pretty easy to see we're not meeting demand,” observes Halbur.

Identifying, recruiting
Several veterinary colleges, including Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina, have implemented systems to identify students with agricultural backgrounds or interest in food animal production early in their Bachelor of Science programs.

These systems can provide early acceptance into the veterinary college, dual mentoring programs and early exposure to food animal production systems. "We're basically looking for ways to reward food animal students," points out Larry Firkins, DVM, MBA, assistant dean for public engagement, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

For instance, North Carolina State University's (NCSU) College of  Veterinary Medicine has a food animal scholars program designed to attract more students to food animal   veterinary medicine. Students are selected for the scholars program in their sophomore undergraduate year, receive mentoring from faculty at both the College of  Agriculture and the College of Veterinary Medicine, and are guaranteed admission to the veterinary college as long as they meet the minimal grade point average requirements.

Once admitted they must remain in the food animal curriculum, explains David Bristol, DVM, associate dean and director, academic affairs for NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Meanwhile, Michigan State Univer-sity recently revealed a new educa-tional option within the Department of Animal Science designed to prepare students for a career in herd-based production medicine and agricultural veterinary practice.

 

According to Pat Halbur, DVM, PhD, a recent survey shows that Iowa alone needs at least 50 new food animal veterinarians over the next five years.

In addition to current pre-veterinary requirements, students enrolled in the Production Medicine Scholars program study farm finance, statistics and advanced sciences. Students will also be required to have direct experience with husbandry and manage-ment on farms.

Each year, up to 10 students who have met the Production Medicine Scholars requirements may be granted admission into the professional veter-inary medicine program, offering a different pathway into the College of Veterinary Medicine.

More information about this new option may be obtained from the Michigan State University website at www.msu.edu or contact Roy Fogwell, MSU Department of Animal Science, at 517.432.1385 or e-mail fogwell@msu.

Early exposure
Educators and students alike agree that one of the most important steps in recruiting students to production animal medicine is early exposure.

 

Future swine veterinarians will need more business education, says David Bristol, DVM, associate dean and director, academic affairs for North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“They need to learn swine production before swine medicine,” points out Halbur. “But they have to get out in practices and into production systems to see what it's all about.” These experiences are also where students see the challenges and work ethic required in production animal practices.

Firkins agrees that colleges provide basic veterinary knowledge but practicing swine veterinarians really excite students in clinical settings.

“Once we get them into school, we rely on Illinois swine veterinarians to provide opportunities on farms and in practices,” says Firkins. “You can see it really click with students in clinical settings,” he says.

The future
In 2005, the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine reported 77 job opportunities from across the United States for food animal veterinarians and only about 20 students interested in filling those positions.

Not only are there jobs plentiful, salaries have moved up as well. “Students who are exclusively large animal are being offered beginning salaries of $3,000 to $10,000 more than those in other veterinary practices,” reports Halbur.

With only a handful of the 27 veterinary schools in the United States graduating large animal or production animal veterinarians, the law of supply and demand is in their favor over the next several years.

Despite the optimism, Halbur issues a thoughtful caution: “The first one or two years of practice are a critical factor in determining if the new veterinarian stays in production animal medicine for the long term.

“We don't necessarily expect students to stay in their first job, but we want it to be a good experience so that they remain production animal veterinarians. We've found that effective mentorship by others in the practice is critically important.”

Editor’s note: The author is a freelance writer who lives and works in rural Minnesota.

Expanded education programs designed to enhance skills

In an effort to provide more in-depth swine education opportunities, the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is offering the Minnesota Summer Swine Institute for the first time this summer.

According to Peter Davies, DVM, professor of veterinary population medicine at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, the program focuses on specific skills needed in the swine industry, along with networking opportunities.

“Because many veterinary schools have a relatively few number of swine veterinary students, extensive swine classes aren't always feasible,” says Davies. “These students are good veterinarians, but we want to hone and enhance their skills through intensive swine-specific production and
diagnostic topics.”

The Institute is open to senior level students or recent graduates and is comprised of six consecutive weeks of intensive training from July 31, through Sept. 10.

By implementing what is described as a “learning community,” Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine hopes to integrate students in swine production systems earlier in their college career.

“This summer we'll place 10 to12, first- or second-year veterinary students in different phases of a swine production system,” explains Pat Halbur, DVM, PhD, chair of the department of diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State Univer-sity. “They'll live together in a ‘learning community,’ working on special projects and documentation of specific skill sets. These experiences will enable them to be better prepared to learn the medical aspects of swine medicine when they return to veterinary school.” 

Diagnosing and managing disease and production issues top the skills list for production animal medicine, but understanding business plays a large role as well.

“For years we've turned out veterinarians who are good on the animal side but poor on the business side,” points out David Bristol, DVM, associate dean and director, academic affairs, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Not only does it impact their personal finances, but it impacts those in corporate structures who hit a promotion ceiling.”

In response to this need, NCSU now requires that students take initial business courses before applying to veterinary college. To accommodate this requirement, NCSU has increased its business course offerings within the veterinary college and will offer a combined DVM and MBA program beginning in 2007, Bristol says.

Bristol also sees a demand for more international swine veterinarians who are comfortable with languages and customs in other countries. “More and more we live in an international society where swine companies operate production systems around the world,” he adds

How one swine veterinarian came to be

An urban background and five years experience in a small animal clinic pretty much stacked the odds against Brian Payne becoming a swine veterinarian. But during his first year in vet school he took a look at large animal medicine and found something that caught his attention.

“Working on the University of Illinois' research farm between my first and second years of vet school really got me interested in production animal medicine,” says Payne, DVM, who practices at Bethany Swine Health Services in Sycamore, Ill. “I didn't completely understand it but I did enjoy it.”

Externships at The Maschhoffs Inc. and Carthage Veterinary Service, Ltd., proved to him that he was on the right path.

Still, his parents and four older brothers needed a little help to get over the shock of their son and brother choosing pigs over dogs and cats. “It took awhile for them to adjust to my choice of production animal medicine,” laughs Payne, “but when they saw how much I enjoyed the work they came around.”

“Swine production medicine continually challenges me and keeps me in touch with the clients,” stresses Payne. “You have the opportunity to work with good people who are down to earth, well educated and continually asking for help in making their businesses stronger.”

Payne says that as new swine veterinarian he asked Bethany Swine Health Services to throw him into all aspects of the practice. “I needed to understand every part of swine production,” he explains.

It wasn't just luck but a lot of hard work and perseverance that kept Payne in the University of Illinois swine program. “In the beginning I fell into production animal medicine,” admits Payne, “but I really had to work hard to stay in it -- especially without a rural background.”

Payne would like to see veterinary colleges offer more opportunities for students to try different specialties early in their coursework through hands-on experiences as well as coursework.

Outside the university, Payne encourages practitioners to become involved in externships and internships.

“Practitioners really need to promote themselves to students earlier,” notes Payne. “It's a great learning experience to be able to rotate through several clinics in a summer because each is unique in its client base and the way that it does things.”

AASV takes initiative in student relations

One of the main points of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians mission statement is “mentoring students, encouraging life-long careers as swine veterinarians.”

To help fulfill this mission statement, AASV offers several programs designed to help swine veterinary students become more involved in the industry.

An example is the $200 grant offered to senior veterinary students who spend at least two weeks in a swine practice with an AASV member.

According to AASV Executive Director Tom Burkgren, DVM, student members of AASV can apply for travel stipends to attend the annual meeting, receive free registration, attend an interactive pre-conference seminar, have the opportunity to be one of 15 students chosen to make presentations of research, case studies and literature reviews, and be eligible to receive a portion of the $25,000 in scholarships awarded to students at the annual meeting.

In addition to the AASV annual meeting, the student outreach committee has organized 12 trips to veterinary colleges to educate students on the opportunities in the swine industry, reports Larry Firkins, DVM, MBA, assistant dean for public engagement, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.


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