Cate DeweyFrom the Editor

Don't give up yet!

Pigs deserve excellent, timely veterinary care. Why would we as a veterinary profession plan for less care for pigs than for dogs, cows, or cats? The first portion of the veterinarian's oath found on the AVMA web site is as follows: “Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”1 Every veterinarian is bound by this oath. Why then do we, or would we in the future, accept a lower level of educational training for swine veterinarians than for students wishing to care for other species? I think we need to change our fundamental assumptions about the selection and education of veterinary students if we intend to provide well-trained new graduates to serve the swine industry of the future.

The first assumption that I would discard is that by selecting “farm kids” as incoming veterinary students we will fulfill the needs of the swine industry. Approximately 2% of the North American population is involved with agriculture. This is a very small selection pool. We must be pro-active in our training of potential veterinary students who do not have agricultural roots. We all must work to intrigue students with our industry. My experience is that we get the best results when we expose many students in their pre-veterinary years. These are willing students. They want agricultural experience for their veterinary school application. Approximately 50 to 70% of students who work with me continue to be involved with swine in some capacity. Likely the average is high because these students are self selected. They already have a potential interest in swine. The knowledge that you impart, in addition to that learned in veterinary school, will prepare them for the swine industry.

The next assumption that bothers me is the one that states that only a few veterinary schools need to teach swine medicine. Typically, students select a veterinary school in their state of residence. Most students do not have the unlimited funds required for out-of-state or foreign student tuition fees. What if you or I had enrolled in a veterinary school that did not teach swine disease or swine health management information? What is the likelihood that we would be doing swine work today? Not all of us knew this is what we wanted until we were introduced to swine health management by an enthusiastic professor. I remember one day in particular with Dr Mike Wilson. We discussed ventilation, pig flow, manure management, and the economics of different management decisions while standing in an empty barn. He included us in the decision-making process and it was exciting.

What if a student such as my current graduate student, Dr Beth Young, enrolled in a veterinary college without a swine course in the curriculum? Dr Young came into the veterinary program prepared to work exclusively with swine. We would have failed our mission to graduate a veterinarian who could use her scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the care of swine. By recommending that only a few veterinary schools need to teach swine health management, we will lose the opportunity to train those who will lead this industry in the future.

Most university professors spend a significant amount of their time conducting research. What if we situated swine faculty at one or two universities and chose to eliminate swine faculty from the rest of the veterinary schools? Which schools would we eliminate, and in doing so, what holes would we have in research? I'll give you some examples. Let's imagine that 10 years ago, we eliminated the swine programs from the University of Minnesota and Iowa State and Purdue Universities. Some research topics that would have received substantially less focus include porcine circovirus type 2; porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome; Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae; swine influenza virus; pathogenesis, diagnosis, spread and eradication of infectious diseases; diagnostic test development; biosecurity; Isowean-SEW-multi-site production; PigCHAMP® record analysis; understanding reproductive and growth parameters; and reproductive problems and technologies. There are many more, but I am sure each of you can recall significant work that came from each university in these research areas. Now, take a moment to recall the “experts” in the swine industry today who would not have received graduate training from these schools.

Finally, I would like to refute the assumption that veterinary schools need only one university professor with a swine focus. Two people have a synergistic effect, creating a much better research program. Research requires creative ideas, rigorous data collection, and critical evaluation of the results. The final product is enhanced with more people. Graduate students benefit from having multiple experts on their committees. I was fortunate to have both Dr Bob Friendship and Dr Mike Wilson on my graduate committee. I needed opinions from both of them to help shape the research and to evaluate the significance of the results.

The swine industry is an important component of the export market, the agricultural industries, and the gross national product in the United States and Canada. It is important that the members of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians ensure that swine health management continues to be taught at veterinary schools in North America and that we do our part in training of swine specialists of the future.

References - non refereed

1. Accessed January 22, 2003.