LMU introduces equine education program to increase number of veterinarians working with horses

Updated January 19, 2023

Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, announced in 2022 that it has established the Equine Veterinary Education Program to help address the shortage of equine veterinarians. This unique program’s goal is to attract students to this area of practice and graduate practice-ready equine veterinarians.

Interested students can apply now for admission to the fall 2023 start of the undergraduate portion of the program.

Also in 2022, the AVMA Council on Education approved the request of Lincoln Memorial’s Richard A. Gillespie College of Veterinary Medicine to add a second entering class of students who will start with each spring semester, beginning this year.

The EVEP is a guaranteed professional admission program, meaning admitted students will have a guaranteed spot at the veterinary college provided they meet admission requirements at the end of their 2 1/2 years of undergraduate coursework. Then students will begin the four-year veterinary program and the track in equine medicine.

Two veterinary professaionals with a horse in the field
Lincoln Memorial University has established the Equine Veterinary Education Program to attract students to this area of practice and help address the shortage of equine veterinarians. (Photo courtesy of LMU)

The program takes an engaging approach to network with the horse industry at its highest level, allowing students to gain exposure to professional managers of horse farms, trainers, owners, and staff members during paid summer externships working on farms, ranches, and other equine operations.

“That opportunity holds limitless boundaries for the types of experiences that students might gain in their equine education through these networking opportunities embedded within the EVEP program,” said Dr. Stuart E. Brown II, delegate for the American Association of Equine Practitioners to the AVMA House of Delegates.

The program is being coordinated by the husband-and-wife team of Drs. Jim Heird and Eleanor Green, who led the Equine Initiative at Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, where he served as coordinator of the initiative and she served dean of the school, respectively.

In addition, the EVEP will be developed with input from the members of the EVEP Advisory Council, among them David Foley, AAEP executive director; Dr. Debbie Spike-Pierce, president and CEO of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital; and Dr. Bill Rood, founder of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.

Regarding students’ admission to the veterinary program, Dr. Green said: “Aspiring students will have considerable, if not extensive, experience in the equine industry already. They will enter the program with core competencies that will make them better equine veterinarians.”

Dr. Brown, equine safety director at Keeneland Association Inc., said, “Programs such as the EVEP represent a relevant and significant effort with thoughtful consideration to the need to provide equine experience for students interested in this career path.”

The 2021 AVMA Census of Veterinarians found that, of the nation’s 121,461 veterinarians, 3.8%, or about 4,600, worked in equine practice.

Recruiting and retaining veterinarians in equine practice can be difficult. Foley noted that within the first five years of graduation, about half of veterinarians in equine practice have left the sector, generally for companion animal practice.

“The equine program at LMU is designed to specifically target kids with an interest in pursuing equine veterinary medicine coming out of high school,” Foley said. The program will market to 4-H, Pony Club, and other youth organizations within the equine industry.

As for addressing the need for equine practitioners, Foley noted, “This will take some time to have an effect on overall numbers, of course, but I think it’s really an innovative program.”

Equine veterinarians must have considerable knowledge of animal science and husbandry. They are called on to provide guidance on nutrition, safe facilities, and care. In addition, they need to understand equine behavior and have strong communication skills in addition to extensive scientific and medical knowledge.

“Equine practitioners face quite a few challenges,” Foley explained. “Six- and seven-day workweeks during the busier season, a fair bit of after-hours emergency coverage, and lower compensation starting out than companion animal colleagues are just a few.”

Dr. Green noted that equine veterinarians experience many of the same difficulties facing the rest of the veterinary profession, such as educational debt, compassion fatigue, and burnout. “They also face risk of injury, which is another reason for the importance of knowing how to handle horses,” she said.

The fast-track approach of the EVEP will reduce the cost to students because of the paid summer experiences and the shortened overall curriculum, Dr. Green said. “They will start earning earlier than most students. It is anticipated that they will command and earn higher starting salaries as they are able to contribute to practices in a meaningful way.”

Other veterinary colleges have accelerated programs, but none of the other programs focus solely on equine medicine.

“The interest of the profession to extend itself to these interested minds has never been greater, as evidenced by the motivation to bring programs like EVEP to reality,” Dr. Brown said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of Dr. Bill Rood, founder of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. In addition, Dr. Stuart Brown was incorrectly listed as a member of EVEP Advisory Council.