Painting an appealing picture of food animal practice may lead to recruiting gifted students, but it does them a disservice if there is no avenue for career change when they want to try something new after several years of practice, Dr. Michael Bolton said.
Dr. Bolton, the new president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, noted that considerable effort and expense have gone into assessing the needs of food animal practice, and that recruitment by groups such as AABP and universities such as Iowa State has been productive.
"Our larger responsibility is to make sure that this is a good place to come," he said, and that will be one of his presidential priorities.
"We're competing for students who could be biomedical engineers and physicians," he said, adding that most new graduates going into practice will no longer retire from positions they hold 35 or 40 years.
"We have to look at different models where they could come into a practice for 8 or 10 years and have a seamless way out to public health. Or maybe public health has to change so that we have nodes in different communities with veterinarians as public health officers to augment a practice's income and allow potential growth of that practitioner."
Toward that end, Dr. Bolton is lining up guest editorials by veterinarians such as Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA executive vice president, and Dr. John Thomson, dean at Iowa State, to alternate with his presidential messages in the AABP newsletter. That way, every month will offer a fresh perspective about the future of veterinary medicine and public health.
Dr. Bolton himself shifted careers when last year he left practice—an occupation he loved—for something new.
His career began with graduation from Michigan State University in 1978. Dr. Bolton headed for Wisconsin to pursue dairy practice and spent eight years as a partner at Bovis Veterinary Service in the community of Auburndale. When he and his wife, Ruthy, began having children, they moved to their native Michigan, where he became a partner in a 10-veterinarian mixed animal practice, Town and Country Animal Clinic, with two clinics. He continued with dairy medicine while gaining a window into small animal practice.
Four years ago, he cut his practice time to half time so he could begin work on his master's in epidemiology under Dr. John Kaneene at Michigan State. Then in 2006—after 28 years of practice—Dr. Bolton decided to do something different. With no immediate prospects, he nevertheless sold his portion of the practice. Two months later, he accepted a technical service position at Intervet.
"It's been great going to a company like this because you aren't pigeonholed in one area, so it's a natural extension of practice," he said. "As technical services veterinarian in an expanding company, I have a lot of interaction with research and development and the sales and marketing team, so there is a free flow of ideas. The job itself has a lot of entities such as speaking to veterinary focus groups and setting up research trials."
Throughout his career, Dr. Bolton has received support from his family, partners, and now, Intervet, for his AABP involvement and pursuit of his advanced degree. He is nearly finished with his master's in epidemiology. Always interested in field research, he had never had a platform to do it until MSU asked him to work on the cooperative National Johne's Demonstration Project.
Of organized veterinary medicine, he says, "Professionally, I've always had my finger in the pie, because I like to have some idea of what's going on in the profession. It's a great source of continuing education, camaraderie, and networking.
"As agriculture becomes more condensed and the ship becomes smaller, it's almost incumbent upon us to be an active player in our profession. We must be in the driver's seat and educate the public that we care deeply about how animals are treated and are uniquely qualified to assess farms."
The AABP also offers a unified voice for groups such as the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, and Academy of Rural Veterinarians, he added.
Dr. Bolton has been active on the Michigan VMA food animal committee, Michigan Bovine Practitioners, and advisory boards to Michigan State and the Michigan Department of Agriculture. He was director of AABP District 4 before ascending to the presidency. As president-elect, he was program chair for the recent Vancouver conference.
While in practice in Michigan, Dr. Bolton and partner Steve Edwards took students into their homes and practice through Michigan State's practice-based ambulatory program, teaching them about veterinary medicine and life balance. "They saw firsthand how you can schedule things and that yes, large animal veterinarians do have a life," he said.
The good life for him has been crowned by his 32-year marriage to his wife, Ruthy, a first-grade teacher, and their children: daughter Molly, who is a physician doing her ER residency at the University of Michigan; son Zach, who just graduated with an engineering degree; and daughter Ann, a junior studying animal science at Michigan State.
He said, "I hope that students who take on this role as a food animal practitioner think—25 years down the road—that it gave them great opportunities and that they're as excited as I am."