Posted April 15, 2005
Students at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine hope to reverse a trend in declining numbers of veterinary graduates choosing careers in food animal medicine.
Last summer, 75 veterinary students started the Veterinary Student Mixed Animal Recruitment Team with financial support from the Iowa VMA Foundation. The purpose of VSMART is the recruiting and mentoring of mostly high school students across Iowa for careers in food animal medicine.
Since then, these ambassadors for their profession have given presentations to more than 3,500 Iowans at fairs, community events, and animal science and 4-H Club meetings.
Like all livestock-dense states, Iowa, which is ranked first in pork and third in beef production in the nation, faces a shortage of large animal veterinarians. A 2003 survey by Iowa State University and the Iowa VMA concluded that Iowa would need 120 additional food animal veterinarians by 2008 to handle the state's animal agriculture demands.
The impact of such a shortfall reaches far beyond the feedlot, said Dr. Patrick G. Halbur, interim associate dean of public services and outreach at Iowa's veterinary college. "Food animal veterinarians are a vital link in the food supply chain. They're critical to safe and economical food production," Dr. Halbur said.
As fewer students from agricultural backgrounds enter veterinary colleges, the number of those interested in mixed species or food animal practices continues to decline, he added.
"Times have changed for veterinary colleges," Dr. Halbur said. "We now need to be heavily engaged in the recruitment process. Our veterinary students are our best advocates."
VSMART members hope to reverse that trend by explaining the educational requirements for large animal practitioners and describing what happens in each year of the four-year veterinary curriculum.
They often partner with local veterinarians, sharing real-life experiences of rural practitioners. "We hope that we can make this career seem less intimidating by giving younger students a chance to interact with both a veterinarian and a veterinary student," said second-year veterinary student and VSMART president LeAnn Bouska.
"We want them to realize that becoming a veterinarian is an attainable goal and a great career," Bouska said.