For some time now, there has been a growing concern over a shortage of food supply veterinarians. To address the problem, the University of Minnesota is taking several steps, including launching a novel program called the Veterinary Food Animal Scholars Program or VetFAST.
Dr. Scott Dee, an associate professor at the Swine Disease Eradication Center at Minnesota and chair of the college's admissions committee, says the school started actively recruiting students for VetFAST roughly a year ago. Freshmen entering the science and agriculture program at the University of Minnesota have the option of enrolling to be on the fast track to becoming food supply veterinarians. They can receive an early decision on their admission to the veterinary college after their undergraduate freshman year, bypassing the graduate record examination, and complete their bachelor's of science and DVM degrees in seven years instead of eight.
Program participants can obtain their degrees while accruing less debt; benefit from mentorships with veterinary faculty and DVM students; take advantage of special summer independent study, research opportunities, and externships; and pursue summer veterinary and industry work opportunities.
To qualify for VetFAST, students must have experience related to food animal medicine such as participation in the National FFA, experience on a farm, or involvement in relevant activities during their freshman year. They must also pursue coursework consistent with admissions requirements for the DVM program, have a minimum grade point average of 3.4 their freshman year, and have letters of support from a veterinarian and their adviser or faculty member. Participants are then selected on the basis of interviews with the veterinary college's admissions committee.
Dr. Dee, who came up with the idea for VetFAST with Russell Bey, PhD, a professor in the college's Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, says the first two students will enter this coming fall. At press time, Dr. Dee had granted five more interviews to applicants. The goal is to have three to five students in the program each year.
In addition to launching VetFAST, the University of Minnesota has added 10 more spots for veterinary students pursuing food supply medicine or public health. In hopes of increasing the number of swine veterinarians, UM has also started a swine certificate program. This program involves a number of specific courses, seminars, and some practice and research experience. Students who complete the program receive a Board of Regents-approved certificate from the university with their diploma. Dr. Dee thinks the regents approval will be the "big carrot" that will attract students because it adds value to the certificate.
The university has high hopes for the new initiatives. The current shortage of food supply veterinarians is particularly unsettling, because of the extra need to protect the livestock industry from new diseases and help ensure food safety.
"If you look across the colleges, you will (see) the numbers are decreasing everywhere (in food supply medicine)," Dr. Dee said. "There is plenty of feedback from the industry. We are listening to the client, and they are telling us they are worried about the pipeline, the future of food animal practitioners going into veterinary practice or going into industry or academia. That is why we are doing what we are doing."