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April 23, 2007

MSU program aims to attract students to large animal veterinarian profession

EAST LANSING, Mich. The veterinary profession is seeing fewer students entering the large animal field, a trend that could have serious implications in areas such as food safety, public health and even animal welfare.

However, a new collaborative program at Michigan State University is giving more students the opportunity to enter this field.

Called the Production Medicine Scholars program, it is a joint effort between the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Animal Science.

“The only requirements to get into the program are strong academic credentials and a passion and an interest in food animals,” said Roy Fogwell, an animal science professor involved in the program. “However, the program is rigorous and targeted. Of the 120 credits required to graduate, 116 are spelled out.”

Under this program, undergraduate students will major in animal science, with the understanding they will be accepted into the College of Veterinary Medicine, as long as they demonstrate a passion for working with food animals and they meet all the academic and experiential requirements.

“If we don’t get kids excited about the health of food animals and the issue of food safety at the undergraduate level,” Fogwell said, “it’s going to be difficult to get them interested once they’ve entered veterinary school.”

Daniel Grooms, an associate professor in large animal clinical sciences, said students will be given the training “they need that will give them the best chance of being successful when they graduate.

“That will include focused food animal medicine training, summer job opportunities and internships that might not be available otherwise,” he said. “Additionally it is hoped that students in this program will have scholarship opportunities that can help defray the cost of their education.”

Grooms said one of the stereotypes they are trying to overcome is that large animal veterinarians spend their days only in farm settings.

“That’s an important part, of course, but there are so many other opportunities where veterinarians can practice,” he said, “including community health, regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies.”

He quickly added, however, that food safety is one of the most important missions of the large animal veterinarian.

“That’s ultimately what we’re talking about,” he said. “We want to make sure that producers who are in this for a living have the opportunity to make a living.”

Fogwell and Grooms said there are several reasons for the drop in students entering this field, including shrinking numbers of family farms; more veterinary students who are coming from urban, as opposed to rural, settings; and a large increase in the numbers of female veterinary students.

“The women entering veterinary college are very talented but, as a group, are not as interested in food animal medicine,” Grooms said. “This in part contributes further to the shortage of veterinarians who work with food animals.”

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Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 16 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.