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Steering Students into Rural Veterinary Practice

September 24, 2010

Ms. Tracy Ann Raef, Veterinary Communications, (515) 294-4602

Hearing the initial predications about a shortage of food animal veterinarians six years ago, the veterinary students at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine decided they weren’t going to sit on the fence and watch it happen. At least, not without doing their part to recruit students interested in rural veterinary medicine. Their efforts are making a difference.

The Veterinary Student Mixed Animal Recruitment Team (VSMART) at ISU was established to recruit high school, college students, and fellow veterinary students to rural mixed animal practice. Since its inception in 2004, VSMART members have passionately promoted the advantages of being a veterinarian treating both small animals and food animals in rural areas to over 10,000 students at community events, schools, and county fairs. VSMART members also volunteer for Vet Camp at county fairs in Iowa to promote veterinary medicine.

“When students are willing to spend their very limited free time to inform and recruit others, it illustrates the strength of these students’ convictions about the value and purpose of rural practice,” said Dr. Locke Karriker, associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and VSMART advisor. The students’ efforts have paid off with an increased enrollment of students in production animal courses at Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine over the past few years. And in the past couple of years those early recruits have graduated and are now mixed animal veterinarians in rural areas of Iowa and the Midwest.

Dr. Jennifer Hosch is a 2009 graduate of the college. She joined Tri-Vet Associates in Farley, Iowa, shortly after graduation. As a student, Dr. Hosch was a member of VSMART recruiting students into mixed animal practice. Now that she’s a practitioner, she’s still sharing her love of the profession and mixed animal practice with clients and the public.

"Rural practice has been the perfect fit for me because it is both personally and professionally fulfilling,”Dr.  Hosch said. “I feel as though I am an important contributor to animal agriculture in our area and fill a central role as the guardian of the family pet's health. I went to veterinary school because I wanted to be what our veterinarian was to my family- well-respected, compassionate, intelligent, and much-needed. I feel as though rural practice has given me the opportunity to be those things."

For fourth-year veterinary students and immediate past V-SMART president and vice-president Abbey Canon and Kate Dion, the next year will be an intensive one of hands-on experience under the watchful eyes of licensed veterinarians before they graduate. “Rural practice appeals to me because it offers the best place to combine animal companionship, food production, human health, and strong community involvement,” said Canon who grew up in Rowan, Iowa. Canon will graduate next spring with her veterinary degree and master’s degree in public health.

“During this year’s Iowa State Fair, I saw a fourth-grade student’s exhibit about mixed animal veterinary medicine. That student clearly spent a large amount of time researching what it takes to be a veterinarian, what she needs to do in school, and what kinds of things rural veterinarians do. She also had a stack of VSMART brochures available for distribution. VSMART is reaching its goal and the people who will impact the future of rural veterinary practice. It’s very rewarding to be a part of that.”

Columbus Junction, Iowa native Kate Dion plans to join a rural practice, too, when she graduates. “In a rural practice, each day is different,” Dion said. “I may be out on a farm call in the morning and in the afternoon I might be vaccinating a litter of puppies. Living in a smaller town also means I can play a larger role in my community and that involvement is important to me.”

“VSMART members are among the college’s and the profession’s best ambassadors for recruiting students to the field of veterinary medicine, and particularly to rural veterinary practice,” Dr. Karriker said.

For Kate and Abbey, helping shape the future of veterinary medicine makes all their efforts worthwhile.