Society faces a national shortage of food animal veterinarians, who maintain animal health, productivity and well-being--and protect our nation's food supply from threats to animal agriculture and food safety.
In hopes of increasing the number of veterinary students who choose careers working with dairy or beef cattle, the School of Veterinary Medicine, producers, food animal veterinarians and corporate sponsors have developed the Early Veterinary Student Bovine Experience Program (EVSBEP). This program, established in 2001, introduces veterinary students early in their education to the career potential of food animal practice.
Veterinary students have substantial animal-related experience before entering veterinary school. However, most have grown up in urban or suburban areas. Dr. John Angelos, faculty director, says of the program, "Through EVSBEP, veterinary students gain exposure early in their education to food animal practice. We hope this experience encourages them to seriously consider food animal practice as they choose career pathways in this diverse profession."
The program--which has grown from seven participants to 25 this year--provides each student with a $2500 scholarship underwritten in part by Pfizer Animal Health.
Participants do not need previous cattle experience. In fact, some students enter the program having only had small animal experience. Students typically begin the program by working five weeks during the summer at dairy or beef operations. In this way, veterinary students learn the basics of caring for cows and calves. They experience the daily activities and issues in production settings.
Interested students follow up the next summer with a 5-week assignment with a veterinary practitioner. At the clinic and on field calls, participants observe and learn about all aspects of food animal practice: seeing cases, helping with diagnostics and vaccination programs, analyzing unique issues in herd health. Along the way, they benefit from practical career advice, business tips and personal insights from seasoned rural veterinarians.
Practical experience and personal mentoring form the backbone of this program. Regional veterinarians volunteer as role models to promote a field of veterinary medicine that pays well and provides interesting challenges and rewards--including financial incentives. For example, food animal veterinarians typically earn more than small animal practitioners right out of the gate--about $112,000 in combined salary and benefits, according to the 2006 salary survey of the School of Veterinary Medicine.
Even students with significant cattle experience report having gained a broader perspective in the field by participating in the bovine experience program.
About 1.7 million dairy cows and 5.5 million beef cattle live in California. The California Veterinary Medical Association reports that fewer than 100 members practice exclusively with dairy and/or beef cattle, although many practitioners include bovines in their practices.