February 22, 2022
Like many people currently working in the swine industry, I did not grow up on a swine farm (or even a farm in general). In fact, my first exposure to the swine industry was in 2015 as a summer research intern for the Carthage System. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of undergrad, and I partially applied to diversify my knowledge of production agriculture animals for my veterinary school application.
In less than three months of working on a sow farm and conducting a research project, I was hooked on pigs! I enjoyed working with the people I met during my Carthage internship and how willing they were to teach others. I also enjoyed the population medicine aspect and most importantly, I loved working with pigs!
Years of hard work resulted in starting veterinary school at the University of Illinois in August of 2016. Since I knew my end goal was to be a swine veterinarian, I took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about swine production and health. This mainly came in the form of Production Medicine Club swine lectures, additional summer internships and conferences such as the American Association of Swine Veterinarians Annual Meeting.
While in one of our Production Medicine Club lectures, I heard about Iowa State University's Swine Veterinary Internship Program. I participated in the SVIP program for three consecutive summers starting in 2016 at Carthage Veterinary Service, Pipestone Veterinary Services and Iowa Select Farms respectively. At each of these internships, I was given the opportunity to increase my knowledge about swine production and health, learn more about each company, work on research projects I got to share at the AASV Annual Meeting, work with different animal health companies and network within the swine industry.
During my time at Iowa Select Farms as an intern in 2018, I had the chance to work on a project at a truck wash evaluating biosecurity. I was then able to present this research at the Allen D. Leman Swine Conference and ended up being chosen as the Morrison Swine Innovator Prize Winner in 2018. The summer internship, abstract development and subsequent conference activities were humbling experiences. The team members at the truck wash I observed worked extremely hard to make sure trucks and trailers were clean every day. Before this project, I took having access to clean trailers and trucks at the sow farms for granted. This experience made me appreciate the "bigger picture" of swine production and just how many different moving parts and people it takes to keep the logistics of a large production company flowing smoothly.
During my fourth year of veterinary school, I was able to go off campus for a series of two-week externships. I took advantage of this and tried to go to a wide array of locations, veterinary clinics and production companies. I spent time at New Fashion Pork, Smithfield, PIC, HANOR and The Maschhoffs. These were all very valuable opportunities to learn from industry leaders and observe different methods within the industry.
Searching for a veterinary job within the swine industry can be a daunting task. However, many times a summer internship or externship is used as an informal interview, for both the company and yourself. This is why it is so important to visit different companies to see which company matches the culture, quality of medicine and lifestyle you want.
There is also a lot of networking that happens at the AASV Annual Meeting. This meeting is very student friendly and customizes events towards increasing student knowledge while facilitating networking opportunities with peers and mentors alike. I learned very quickly that the swine industry is a small community. I had a couple of job interviews within the swine industry my fourth year of veterinary school. I ultimately determined Carthage was the best fit for me and happily signed on with Carthage Veterinary Service and started in June of 2020.
Carthage Veterinary Service is unique in that new veterinarians have an opportunity to work a full year in production before beginning work as an associate veterinarian. My year in production was a phenomenal learning experience. I worked on several different sow farms within the Carthage System with varying health statuses, farm layouts and locations. I learned even more about production, daily tasks on a sow farm, disease outbreaks and their impacts on farm staff, and picked up on some Spanish.
I also learned that my favorite department to work in is farrowing because I enjoyed all of the moving pieces and working with the piglets and seeing the difference you could make. I had the opportunity to serve as the farrowing day one manager and learned more about people management and leadership. One funny story I remember from my production year- I was so intimidated to treat sows in farrowing that it took me almost a month before I would try. With practice comes experience and improved skill level, I'm now happy to say I consider myself a professional and am much more confident in my ability to teach others this critical skill.
My year in production challenged me to figure out what tasks were essential when we all felt the staffing and logistical challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also gave me a solid understanding of how long each task on the farm takes to execute. I left my year in production with a great deal of respect for our sow farm team members and a tremendously improved understanding of the challenges and opportunities they face every day. Simply put, my year in production gave me a greatly improved practical skill set making me a much better partner to the farms which I consult with as a swine veterinarian.
I started working as an associate veterinarian for Carthage in July of 2021. While in this role I have new learning opportunities including understanding disease processes, disease elimination programs, how to conduct a herd visit, sample collection and diagnostic test selection. By learning daily, I am challenged to improve my skills to better serve clients. I have enjoyed the mentorship I have received and continue to receive from numerous people throughout my professional network. It is great knowing that someone is always available to answer any questions I may have as I learn along the way.
Like most veterinarians, I consider myself a "Type A" person and enjoy a set schedule. However, my schedule can change daily depending on client needs and animal health. Getting out of my comfort zone with time management has provided an area of personal growth.
To anyone wanting to become a swine veterinarian, my advice is simple; work hard, take advantage of swine-focused internships and associated learning opportunities, and network within the swine industry. I am extremely proud to be a part of an industry that produces safe, sustainable and affordable pork to help feed the world.
Source: Megan Bloemer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.
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