Animal sciences pave way to fill vet need

By for CAES News
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Last year, 543 students applied to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, one of only 28 veterinary colleges in the country. Fewer than 100 got in.

Paige Carmichael rolled off these numbers to a group of high school students on the Athens, Ga., campus for “Animal Science in Action.” The summer program, sponsored by UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ animal and dairy science department, hosted 46 students from Georgia, South Carolina and New York. About 80 percent of them want to be veterinarians.

“There is a group of people we want desperately in our profession,” said Carmichael, the vet college’s associate dean of academic affairs, “and that is large animal veterinarians.”

The need isn’t just for people who want to work with a 1,300-pound cow instead of a three-pound poodle. There is an accelerating shortage of both large and small animal veterinarians.

According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, “the current national pool of 2,500 veterinarians graduating annually is not enough to meet the demands of a growing population and the changing public health needs of society.”

If enrollment doesn’t increase, the number of vets per million Americans will drop to from nine to 6.7 by 2050. About 965 more students per year are needed to maintain the current ratio. Today there are at least three job offers for every graduate.

But the need for large animal, or food animal, vets is accelerating faster – a 12 to 13 percent increase from now to 2016, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The shortage is due primarily to a lack of student interest and further declines in students from rural areas.

In 2006, the College of Veterinary Medicine didn’t have a single student going exclusively into large animal medicine.

“One of the big reasons we haven’t had a lot of students in the food animal program is because not a lot are applying,” Carmichael said.

UGA’s vet and agriculture colleges are working to help remedy this. Through a Food Animal VIP program, five CAES students can fast track into the vet college per year.

CAES’s animal and dairy sciences department is preparing students for the realities of vet life and other fields with hands-on experience. Students learn “how animals function inside and out,” said William Graves, a CAES animal and dairy science professor who heads “Animal Science in Action.”

Up to a half of these students will apply to vet school. In the past few years, the department modified its curriculum, working with the vet college, to help better prepare students.

Robert Dove, an associate professor of animal and dairy science, teaches an animal practicum class focused on hands-on animal management procedures, “all designed to give students hands-on experience on what it’s like to work with animals,” he said. “I tell them that ‘if you don’t like this class, you won’t like vet school.’”

“There is a need for large animal vets,” he said. “There is a big need.”

High school sophomore Allison Haspel, from Manhasset, N.Y., has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was three. With two years left of high school, Haspel and her mother, Sharon, are gathering information on vet schools.

Programs like the two-day Animal Science in Action are “helping me figure out what I want to do early,” Haspel said. “I think I want to do large animal sport, and I also like working with calves.”

Brittany McGuirt, from Duluth, Ga., is interested in small and large animal practice. The high school senior wants to “cater to all animals on a first-name basis,” she said. “I hate going to a doctor who doesn’t know you.”

Through A.S.I.A., “we really get great kids interested,” Graves said. “Spending time with them and telling them about what we do is so worthwhile. After they get tired, dirty and a little smelly, that little grin makes it all worthwhile.”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.