Novel Minnesota Program Molds Veterinary Students for Careers

To meet the shortage of veterinarians for food animals, the University of Minnesota several years ago introduced the VetFAST program to spur early interest in pursuing a veterinary career

Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

June 18, 2010

7 Min Read
Novel Minnesota Program Molds Veterinary Students for Careers

To meet the shortage of veterinarians for food animals, the University of Minnesota several years ago introduced the VetFAST program to spur early interest in pursuing a veterinary career.

“This program that we developed was really meant to attract and recruit students at the high school level to come to the University of Minnesota to study their pre-veterinary curriculum, and then go into veterinary school to become food animal veterinarians,” says Scott Dee, DVM, chair of admissions and director of VetFAST in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Two decades ago, about half of the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine graduates went on to become large animal practitioners. That number has since dropped dramatically. Only 15% of the class of 2009 specialized in food animals.

To reverse that trend, recruiters from the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences campuses in St. Paul, Morris and Crookston fan out across the state to identify viable candidates for the approximately 20 student VetFAST program slots available each year, Dee explains.

Dee admits that qualifying for admission to the Veterinary Food Animal Scholars Track is not an easy task. Besides having a strong interest in food animal medicine, high school students must:
• Rank in the top 25% of their high school graduating class;
• Score 25 or higher (composite score) on the American College Testing (ACT) college entrance exam; and
• Provide a letter of support from a practicing veterinarian.
Students finishing their freshman year of college as a pre-veterinary major must meet certain coursework requirements and must have:
• Experience related to food animal medicine through participation in 4-H or FFA or involvement in relevant activities at the university;
• A letter of support from their advisor or a faculty member;
• A letter of support from a veterinarian; and
• A minimum grade point average of 3.40 after the first year of college.

But, once the VetFAST requirements are fulfilled, “they are given a provisional acceptance after the first year of college to go to veterinary school and participate in our food animal faculty mentoring programs. It takes the pressure off of having to apply for veterinary school as a junior or senior in college,” Dee says.

The other very important facet of the VetFAST program is involvement in the food animal industry, usually involving summer projects or externships with leading veterinary practices or agri-businesses in established cattle and swine areas. “This shows qualified students the kind of opportunities that are out there. Not knowing the diversity of offerings that are available may be one of the reasons for the food animal veterinary shortage,” he suggests.

More than 50 students in veterinary school have enrolled in the VetFAST program, Dee says. A total of $25,000 is offered in annual scholarships.

VetFAST Graduates

Laura Schulz, DVM, graduated two years ago from veterinary school, and landed a position as the ninth practitioner with the Swine Vet Center (SVC) at St. Peter, MN.

She grew up raising sheep, was very active in 4-H and FFA, and had envisioned a career as a physical therapist before the “love of livestock” and her first animal science class compelled her to switch. Her great uncle was a veterinarian, too.

“The VetFAST program was really intriguing to me because it allowed me to basically skip a year of undergraduate school, and financially that was pretty huge,” she says. “It also opened the door to scholarships.”

The Lafayette, MN, native called VetFAST “a wonderful experience for me that definitely opened the door to countless opportunities in veterinary medicine.” She spent time as a junior undergraduate at the Swine Vet Center St. Peter, MN, and later shadowed at several other Minnesota veterinary clinics.

In her current SVC position, she works in most areas of swine medicine, but focuses on boar stud management and starting nursery pigs. “I love the variety of the work and couldn’t imagine a better view from my truck everyday; I really enjoy the people, veterinary medicine and, of course, the pigs.”

Carissa Odland, DVM, is a June 2009 graduate of the University of Minnesota and VetFAST, and has worked a year at the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic in Pipestone, MN.

She becomes the 14th veterinarian in the mixed animal practice, focusing mainly on swine.

For the St. Peter, MN, native who also grew up on a sheep farm, Odland found becoming a food animal veterinarian enabled her to combine her love of livestock and science. “I didn’t really have any pig experience until I got to undergraduate school at the University of Minnesota, but once I got involved in some of the pig projects, they really interested me and I wanted to stick with that area.”

VetFAST helped her get into veterinary medicine studies faster, “and helped me focus and get more directed to be able to take advantage of the food animal programs available,” she says. The small group size provided valuable interaction and feedback, she adds.

VetFAST officials encouraged Odland to do an internship at the Pipestone clinic after her first year of veterinary school. “That really helped build a relationship here and I knew it was a really good clinic that I wanted to work at,” she says.


Dee emphasizes that VetFAST is not just a Minnesota program. It pulls in students from across the country.

For more information about the Vet-FAST program, write the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine, Academic and Student Affairs Office, 108 Pomeroy Center, 1964 Fitch Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108; e-mail dvmin
[email protected] ; or call (612) 624-4747.

Veterinary, Medical Paraprofessional Program Targets Youth

A new educational program to address a shortage of veterinary and medical paraprofessionals is targeting high school students. The program, One Health Career-Oriented Youth Educational National Program, was developed by the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease (FAZD) Defense Center and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The program is based upon the One Health concept that veterinary medicine and human medicine work hand-in-hand to take on contagious diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 60% of all human pathogens are transmissible between human and animals.

Developed by FAZD Center principal investigator Floron Faries, DVM, at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, the new youth program will guide students through core and career education, apprenticeships, certification and job placement assistance.

“The program’s goal of qualifying students as paraprofessionals — as well as its emphasis on the public health and regulatory aspects of zoonotic and exotic diseases — will provide graduates with a high probability of employment,” states the FAZD Center announcement.

The curriculum includes 75 core lessons on basic veterinary science, plus career education in three tracks — clinical sciences, One Health science and technology, and laboratory research/diagnostic science and technology. Each track has 25 lessons.

Coursework is published as a handbook and as a Web-based course with interactive features to establish a national curriculum in workforce development of youth in the fall of 2010.

For job training, students serve as apprentices in career environments of their choice and receive 120 hours of on-the-job training before being certified.

To learn more about the program, contact Faries at (979) 845-4353 or [email protected].

The One Health initiative, about 75 years old and gaining support globally, is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Medical Association (AMA). To learn more about One Health, go to:

The FAZD Center focuses on research, education and outreach to prevent, detect, mitigate and recover from zoonotic and exotic animal diseases, which may be introduced intentionally or through natural processes. The center leverages the resources of 12 major universities, nine minority serving institutions and two national laboratories. The FAZD Center is headquartered at Texas A&M University (
— Dale Miller, Editor

About the Author(s)

Joe Vansickle

Senior Editor

Joe, a native of Indiana, is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He worked on daily newspapers in Albert Lea, MN and Fairmont, MN, before joining the staff of National Hog Farmer in 1977. Joe specializes in animal health issues, federal regulations, environmental concerns, food safety and writing about the swine veterinary community. Joe has won several writing awards from the Livestock Publications Council. In 2002, he earned the Master Writer Program Award from the American Agricultural Editors’ Association.

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