U program looks to solve vet shortage

VetFAST gives students a head start on vet school studies, if they focus on the food animal track.

Yelena Kibasova

The College of Veterinary Medicine’s efforts to increase enrollment of food animal veterinarians are starting to pay off.

Food animal vets deal with livestock and are in short supply nationwide, but the vet school is working to increase admissions in its program.

With the decline of farms all over the country, the number of farm vets has declined, too.

Unfortunately, the decline has been too great and farmers are feeling the strain.

“There aren’t enough food animal veterinarians to serve all the farmers,” said Scott Dee, chairman of the admissions committee and director of VetFAST, the Food Animal Scholars program.

The program, introduced three or four years ago, allows students to receive advanced enrollment in the vet school.

Instead of waiting until their senior year of college, students can apply and be admitted at the end of their first year, Dee said.

VetFAST students have the opportunity to work on their undergraduate degree for three years and begin vet school starting their senior year.

So the catch is – students who apply to the program are required to enter as food animal vets.

The college is looking for students who are serious about going into traditional rural food animal medicine, said Larry Bjorklund, director of student affairs and admissions at the college.

Students who enter the program must be certain they want to follow the food animal track.

“I thought by going this route that would kind of be a way for me to assure them that this is really what I am interested in,” said Carissa Schloesser, a first-year VetFAST student.

In the program’s first year, two students were admitted. Enrollment remained steady with a slight increase of about two or three students each year.

This year 12 students applied and seven were admitted. Dee said he hopes this increase will continue.

“The word is getting out now that we have this program and it’s working Ö I expect larger groups each year from now on,” Dee said.

Besides the new program, the vet school has taken previous steps to increase food animal vet enrollment.

In 2003, the school increased its enrollment from 80 to 90 students. The 10 extra student spots were added to encourage more applicants for the food animal and public health courses of study.

The shortage of livestock vets has affected some farmers.

“Just from being in practice myself and seeing the change in the ag industry, I have to go farther and farther and farther out to work with these farmers,” said Dee, who is also a livestock veterinarian.

Other farmers are surprised that there is a shortage.

Dianna Hausladen, who owns a 150-cow farm in New Germany, Minn., sees practitioners moving away because of a lack of farms.

“At this point our vets say that there’s getting to be not enough business for them” to continue working on food animals, Hausladen said.

This problem is due in part to an increase in developments in rural areas that are wiping out farms.

The areas that are most in need of food animal vets tend to be farther away from cities, Dee said.

“I think overall, though, I’d look at it as cross country, there’s definitely a shortage,” he said.