A Passion for Swine

“I’m passionate about feeding the world.”

And if Rachel Stika is going to be passionate about feeding the world in Iowa, she needs to know about pigs.

That’s why the third-year veterinary medicine student has participated three summers in the Swine Veterinary Internship Program (SVIP). Stika and other program participants collaborate with veterinarians at production systems and/or clinics where they design and execute field trials with guidance from mentors. Students also design and execute diagnostic test sampling and implement the principles and methods of swine diagnostic collection, testing and interpretation.

Stika grew up on a cow-calf farm in Cresco, Iowa. The farm also had horses, goats and chickens but no pigs. If she was going to be passionate about feeding the world, she had to gain experience with pigs.

So as an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, she completed an internship at a swine facility with 7500 sows to learn more about pig production and swine medicine.

“I worked on four different research trials that summer and learned a lot about pigs,” she said.

Stika found she enjoyed swine medicine, so much so that she decided to participate in SVIP the summer before veterinary school and the summers after completing her first and second year of veterinary school.

“Swine medicine is unique in the aspect that you are not only concerned with the individual patient, but the entire population on that farm,” she said.

Her past three summers have been spent in the College of Veterinary Medicine, at New Fashion Pork in Jackson, Minnesota, and at the Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minnesota. Each offered a different look into the swine industry.

During her summer in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Stika worked with faculty and eight different production systems to look at the economic impact of respiratory disease in growing pigs in a project that was sponsored and funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica. She followed that by working with New Fashion Pork’s staff veterinarians and conducted research on Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. This past summer, she was at the Swine Veterinary Center, in an internship sponsored by Merck & Co. The clinic has 15 veterinarians and only practices swine medicine.

“They have clients all over the Midwest,” she said. “We visited many different swine operations and the experience was valuable for me to learn not only the medical skills I will need but also observing how the veterinarians interact with their clients.

“That’s so important in veterinary medicine.”

This summer Stika also conducted research on PCV-3, a virus that infects swine. Stika collected processing fluids from pigs and tested for the virus, monitoring sows before, during and after vaccination.

After three years in SVIP, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Stika is a fan of the program.

“It’s such an amazing program,” she said. “Every summer has been different. I’ve seen so many different angles of swine medicine from academia to production systems and as well as from the clinic side.

“The program provides a nice balance between research and learning. I’ve gotten to see how veterinary medicine works in the real world.”