When Dr Burkgren offered the unexpected opportunity to write this column, an early thought was that I had previously answered this question and will be able to pull the answer out of my files. I soon discovered that the first and only time that anyone has asked a similar question and requested a written answer from me was a short….29 years ago!
The specific question at that time in December 1985 was “Why Did I Select Veterinary Medicine as a Career?” It was a part of the application to the University Of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. Each applicant answered the question by writing an essay and later discussing that essay and a wide range of other topics in an interview with the admissions committee. It was a great open-ended question that stopped students in their tracks and fostered the same introspection as when the senior college student asked Dr Burkgren, “Why do you do what you do?”
I was able to locate my original essay and compared what I dreamed would be rewarding in this profession to what I actually find rewarding as a swine veterinarian 25 years following graduation. The opening sentence provided a solid reminder of what drew me into this profession: “I have chosen veterinary medicine as a career because I enjoy working with people, animals, and science.”
Thinking of the current day, one of the best parts of being a swine veterinarian truly is working with a wide variety of people. I have the opportunity daily to interact and collaborate with many talented swine producers, co-workers, and veterinarians across the United States and Canada as part of my employment within an agricultural cooperative’s pig contracting business. I am privileged to be part of great teams that have thrived for many years that include co-workers, farm owners, farm employees, and veterinary colleagues. The dynamic nature of the swine industry continually creates the need to meet, interact, and team up with new people to accomplish goals, solve problems, and share ideas.
It is a rewarding part of my job to experience the success of farms in terms of swine health and the personal growth of people, and as measured in business terms. Those farms, people, and animals play a vital role in global society by producing safe, nutritious, and affordable food for a world population that’s growing by 200,000 people every day. Being a part of their effort makes it easy to find relevance and importance in serving society as a swine veterinarian. It’s engaging to be on the worldwide team of agriculture that currently shoulders the goals and challenges of producing food for 7.3 billion people.
My interest in becoming a veterinarian was launched during early grade school by working with pigs on our family farm. My first experience with veterinarians was watching them on farm calls assisting our family with mortality caused by diseases such as Escherichia coli and erysipelas. It was fascinating to watch a veterinarian examine live pigs or perform a post mortem exam, reach a diagnosis, and recommend treatment in a matter of minutes. By the following day, the pigs were responding well to treatment and preventative measures were started for the future. That was (and is) applied science at its very best! I continue to enjoy and appreciate the rapid response that swine veterinary medicine provides in defining and solving problems for animals and people. That rapid response occurs at the farm level, the diagnostic laboratories, and many other places in the middle.
There was one pending reward of becoming a swine veterinarian that was completely unanticipated by me as an undergraduate. That reward is membership in the AASV. It’s exceptionally motivating to be part of a professional association in which members selflessly educate and challenge each other in the areas of veterinary practice, science, and integrity. The members and the AASV staff truly create a professional home that encourages all of us to become better at doing what we do.
In conclusion, I find that the final sentence of my essay was an accurate predictor of the reality of being a swine veterinarian: “I believe a career in veterinary medicine will be enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding.”
Being a swine veterinarian is all of that and a whole lot more! That’s why I do what I do!
--Bill Starke, DVM
Pig Sourcing Team Manager Purina Animal Nutrition LLC – A Land O’Lakes, Inc. company