Program lets potential vets fast-track to grad school

VetFAST grants some undergrads early admission to the veterinary college if they commit to studying food animals.

Emily Ayshford

While most of her peers hope to take care of small animals such as cats and dogs, science and agriculture junior Laura Schulz wants to care for swine and sheep.

“I basically grew up on a farm,” she said. “I guess I’ve always really been interested in large animals.”

Because students such as Schulz, who specialize in food animals, have become rare, she is one of the first students admitted to a new College of Veterinary Medicine program created to help satisfy the shortage.

The Veterinary Food Animal Scholars Program, or VetFAST, allows undergraduate students to receive early admission to the veterinary school at the end of their first years and lets students begin graduate school their senior years.

Larry Bjorklund, undergraduate recruitment coordinator for the College of Veterinary Medicine, said the national shortage of food-animal veterinarians is reflected in the University’s graduates. Food animals include cows, swine, poultry, sheep and goats.

In spring 2003, 16 of about 75 graduates specialized in large or mixed – large and small – animals.

At the time, Bjorklund said, the school had about 62 job vacancy notices for food animal jobs in the upper Midwest.

Bjorklund added that 10 years ago, about one-third of graduates specialized in large or mixed animals.

Scott Dee, the program’s admissions committee chairman, said many companies cannot fill jobs involving food-animal science.

“Industries are concerned that there aren’t going to be enough graduates to fill the pipeline,” he said.

Most veterinary students study small-animal science, which reflects the job market, Bjorklund said.

Many students who specialize in food-animal science go on to work in rural areas, which can frighten some potential students away.

Living in a rural area is not a problem for Schulz – she said she would prefer it.

Dee, a former practicing large-animal veterinarian, said many students do not understand the opportunities involved with large animal medicine.

“I know how dynamic and exciting the industry is,” he said.

Dee said they have had about eight upper-class applicants hoping to be grandfathered into the program and said they plan to admit three to five students per year.

Students not admitted to the program or those not interested in food animals can still apply for early admission to the College of Veterinary Medicine their junior years and begin their senior years. Bjorklund said about 20 percent of students admitted to the school do not yet have an undergraduate degree.

Students enrolled through early admission processes are granted a bachelor’s degree their second year of professional school.

Dee said he hopes the new program will attract incoming first-year students who are interested in food animal science, and said they have been promoting the program at area high schools.

“I believe there are a number of students that are interested in coming to the University because of this program,” he said. “We would like to entice them to the University.”