For some time now, many veterinarians have been worrying that the veterinary profession may be facing a shortage of food animal veterinarians in the public, private, industrial, and academic sectors.* Now, in an attempt to increase the numbers, the University of Missouri-Columbia has begun a new preveterinary program to nurture student interest in food animal medicine.
"What this program provides is a support system," said Dr. C. B. Chastain, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine.
The new MU AgScholars Program will identify incoming college students or college freshmen who have demonstrated experience or interest in livestock production and health, direct them through courses that will prepare them for a veterinary education, and help them to develop their career goals.
"Students enrolled in AgScholars will complete a more intensive and structured undergraduate curriculum than the typical preveterinary student," said Dr. Jeff Tyler, director of the food animal science section of the University of Missouri's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. "This undergraduate curriculum will provide them with a skill set which includes basic nutrition, livestock production, and quantitative reasoning, better preparing them for the challenges of modern food animal practice."
The program will also provide students with mentors—College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members as well as veterinarians in private practice, industry, and related areas. In addition, whenever possible, students will be invited to participate in veterinary research projects and other appropriate events at the college.
"This program will allow them to better understand what they are getting into, provide them with an opportunity to hear the good and the bad of the profession, and hopefully put some of the bad in a clearer perspective," Dr. Chastain said.
Previously, the university had an initiative to nurture interest in veterinary medicine as a whole, called the Preveterinary Medical Scholars Program. Several schools around the country have similar programs, but AgScholars focuses specifically on food animal medicine. "This (new) program is a blend between our previous scholars program and a desire to try to provide a mentoring system for people that are interested in agricultural veterinary medicine," Dr. Chastain said.
High school seniors and MU freshmen who want to enter AgScholars must have an ACT composite score of 27 or more, or an "equivalent" SAT score. They must also have demonstrated experience or interest in livestock production and health. This can include, for example, participation in a livestock enterprise as a family member or an employee, enrollment in at least two years of high school agricultural course work, or participation in Future Farmers of America, 4H, or a similar organization. If students don't have this kind of experience, they can still be admitted, if they agree to complete an internship during the summer between their freshman and sophomore years.
Animal science majors who successfully complete AgScholars will be ensured acceptance into the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. Maintaining a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.3 is among the list of requirements to be considered successful.
"The AgScholars Program will provide us with a unique opportunity to train food animal and mixed animal practitioners for rural communities in Missouri and the surrounding states," Dr. Tyler said.
Dr. Peter Chenoweth, a professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University and an active participant in discussions about the food animal veterinarian shortage, says this type of program is a good idea, but won't solve the whole problem. "I think this is a good initiative," he said. "But it's not just getting them into the program, it's maintaining them through the DVM program, and then supporting them when they get out."
As long as academic standards are maintained, however, Dr. Chenoweth says the general consensus is that the AgScholars program "is a positive way to go."
At press time, the university was processing the first applications to the program.
* JAVMA Jan. 15, 2003, page 127; May 1, 2003, page 1206; June 15, 2003, pages 1674 and 1697