January 01, 2011


 Veterinary postgraduate program in development

Would create institute aimed at boosting food animal professionals 


posted December 19, 2010
Two states have acquired federal funding for a novel approach toward addressing veterinary shortages in the United States.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development, in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, have signed a cooperative agreement toward establishing a National Food Animal Veterinary Institute in northwest Missouri.

The announcement was made Oct. 29 at the Kit Bond Science and Technology Incubator on the campus of Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

USDA Rural Development has allocated $500,000 for the endeavor, which is being spearheaded by the agriculture commissioners of each state, Dr. Mike Strain from Louisiana and Jon Hagler, PhD, from Missouri.

The agreement calls for the development of a business plan, followed by a pilot study, within three years to provide specialized training to graduating veterinarians and veterinary technicians in food animal medicine, research and development, food safety, public health, and regulatory disease control, according to an MWSU press release.

Specifically, in years one and two, working groups will focus on four key areas: business and financial planning, curriculum development and identification of training opportunities, faculty and administration recruitment, and research and training infrastructure identification and development.

The partners plan to develop a postgraduate pilot training fellowship opportunity in year three that will build on the planning by the working groups, according to the release.

Much of the initial funding from USDA Rural Development will be used to flesh out the proposal and develop and plan for the pilot project. Dr. Strain said he and others will work on securing further assistance from private industry and the federal government but that first, the business and financial planning working group needs to look deeper into the matter.

Cheryl Cook, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development, announced Oct. 29 a $500,000 grant to create a business plan and pilot program for training large animal veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

Dr. Carrie Castille, a deputy assistant commissioner with the Louisiana agriculture department, said right now the project partners are working on finding team leaders for the four working groups. Individuals in academia, industry, and the public sector are being sought.

"We're moving forward quickly. We were actually surprised at the rate this has taken off in terms of receiving funding," Dr. Castille said.

Once the fellowship program is up and running, Dr. Castille said anywhere from 50 to 100 recent veterinary and veterinary technician graduates would participate in the first year of training, depending on the facilities and other factors. Somewhere in Buchanan County has been pegged as the likely location, but MWSU will allow use of its facilities in the interim. Missouri Western State's campus in St. Joseph is located in Buchanan County, an hour north of Kansas City. The site was chosen because of its proximity to the Animal Health Corridor in addition to the high concentration of food animals in the region, Dr. Castille said. According to a report by Brakke Consulting Inc., more than 45 percent of the fed cattle, 20 percent of the beef cows and calves, and more than 40 percent of the hogs in the United States are located within 350 miles of Kansas City.

Dr. Strain said the expectation is to involve all U.S. veterinary schools and colleges in recruiting recent graduates to receive advanced clinical training. The students would be selected on the basis of aptitude in addition to their willingness to practice in the rural, regulatory, military, or public health sectors.

"We've tried for a number of years, through a variety of mechanisms over the last 12 years, including loan repayment, scholarships, and grants, but we have not made any significant progress in dealing with the growing and impending shortfall in the area of food animal medicine, regulatory medicine, military veterinary medicine, and other areas," Dr. Strain said. "Our regulatory personnel and food animal veterinarians are aging out, and we don't have a sufficient number of highly trained people to take those places."

The idea first came about during conversations among members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. These state commissioners discussed looking at models found in human medicine "or looking at some other type of model to where we can find some of the best and brightest and put them in an atmosphere where they're training with some of the best (teachers) in the world."

Accreditation of the fellowship program and certification of program participants are two major issues that will need to be resolved down the road. Dr. Castille said as the institution becomes full fledged, it will look at accreditation.

She also acknowledged that veterinary schools already offer hands-on training and high-value degrees, not to mention internships, preceptorships, and opportunities for students to work at practices while being mentored.

Some leaders in veterinary academia have expressed cautious optimism for the program.

Dr. Neil C. Olson, dean of the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine, said the concept is very much in its infancy, and a number of issues need to be worked out. Yet, it has the potential to be a national resource that addresses not only the rural veterinary shortage but also the ongoing shortages of veterinarians in public health and regulatory veterinary medicine and in food safety.

However, for the institute to become successful, Dean Olson said, it won't be able to locate all its operations in Missouri alone, owing to the scale of the project. Instead, he said, the NFAVI should work with existing training facilities nationwide.

"As most academic deans are aware, there are a number of special training opportunities across the country that are (in) stand-alone facilities, like the (U.S. Meat Animal Research Center) in Clay Center, Neb., (and) the University of California Cooperative Extension dairy farm in Tulare County as well as the Cornell University and University of Minnesota dairy programs," Dean Olson said. "There are pods across the country and they're good ones, but they are more set up at the local level. It would seem to me what could come out of this national institute would be finding a way to bring some of those existing training facilities under some sort of umbrella so they would still exist."

Second, the institute would require ongoing support.

Dean Olson said economic incentives such as scholarship programs can be powerful recruiting tools for students to stay in food animal medicine, but they haven't had a chance to succeed because of budget cuts and a lack of ongoing commitment. Whether the institute can buck the trend is the multimillion-dollar question, he said.

"If it ends up being the same old 'We have money at the beginning and when the going gets tough the money goes away,' that's not going to be successful. There has to be a long-term commitment to this. I would suspect it's going to take federal and private money and perhaps state monies," he said.

Even if those conditions were met, Dean Olson doesn't expect the institute to recruit a large wave of new food animal practitioners, perhaps a handful. More realistically, he thinks, the institute could help existing food animal students stay in that field.

"I think the opportunity for having a little bit more advanced training could open up other potential career opportunities within food animal medicine. For example, someone who did a more rural practice with this training, they could have the feasibility to go to the (Department of Agriculture) and do regulatory medicine," Dean Olson said.

Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, noted that the association's board of directors has not had an opportunity to discuss the new agreement, and that the association does not have an official position at this time. However, she said that the AAVMC would be interested in learning more about the NFAVI and how the program will be developed, implemented, and funded.

She noted that the U.S. veterinary colleges already have excellent programs for educating food animal practitioners and that evidence indicates the lack of rural practitioners exists because of the shortage of economically sustainable jobs that pay well as well as quality-of-life issues for new graduates moving to rural America.

"We are curious to learn how the NFAVI program will add more public practice and food animal veterinarians to the workforce and also the implications it may have on students' education debt burden," Dr. Pappaioanou said. "It is wonderful that NFAVI recognizes these issues. And if planned carefully with collaboration with existing accredited colleges and schools of veterinary medicine and with acquired sustained funding, this very well could be a positive initiative, and the AAVMC would appreciate the opportunity to explore how it could add value to the proposed program."