From the Executive Director

Tom BurkgrenRaising the next generation

The decision to take an active role in promoting swine medicine as a viable option for veterinary students is one that has been taken seriously by the AASV for many years. One of the core components of the AASV's mission is "Mentoring students, encouraging life-long careers as swine veterinarians." The AASV and the AASV Foundation are committed in their efforts to raise the next generation of swine veterinarians.

In 1973, the American Association of Swine Practitioners (AASP) began offering student memberships to those enrolled in a college of veterinary medicine. In 1976, the cost to students was $10 (all currency in $US). In comparison, a regular membership cost $25. In 1979, student dues were increased to $15. Very little has remained the same, but amazingly, student dues have remained unchanged since that time. Student membership provides the benefits of the Journal of Swine Health and Production, AASV web site, e-Letter, membership directory, and various publications. Student members also receive complimentary registration to the annual meeting.

Even without knowing the intent of the AASP Board of Directors in the 1970's, I can imagine that they were thinking about the need for new veterinarians entering food animal practice. These directors knew that students could benefit from the educational offerings from the AASP as well as the networking that occurred among members. I have heard more than one story from current AASV members who remember experiencing their first AASP annual meeting. Common to each was an amazement to be rubbing shoulders with the elite of the profession and to be treated as a colleague by even the most prominent members. This sense of being welcomed into the profession of swine veterinary medicine has persisted and been repeated over many years.

If you happened to be at the recent AASV annual meeting in Des Moines on Sunday afternoon, you may have sat in on one of the most successful and well-attended sessions of the entire meeting, the student seminar. Each year, 15 veterinary students are selected through a competitive process to present a paper and receive a $500 stipend provided by Alpharma Animal Health. These student presenters come as well prepared as any speakers at our meeting. More than one prospective employer is sitting in the audience to see this new talent coming into the profession.

Several years ago, the AASV Foundation made the decision to build upon the success of the student seminar through financial scholarships. Each student presenter is eligible to compete for one of eight scholarships administered through the AASV Foundation. In 2004, Alpharma Animal Health provided $5000 to the top presenter. The Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, on behalf of Elanco Animal Health, provided seven $2000 scholarships.

Sunday at the AASV annual meeting is also a time for other student-related activities. The AASV provides a breakfast get-together for students and faculty advisors. That evening, there is more opportunity to socialize at the student reception sponsored by Intervet. These social events are geared toward welcoming students as well as promoting networking opportunities with other students, advisors, and practitioners.

On Sunday, sandwiched in between breakfast, the student seminar, and the evening social, Dr Larry Firkins and a crew of outstanding speakers educate the students in a workshop designed to give a realistic view of what they need to know to succeed in practice. Every year, Dr Firkins solicits input from the students on topics for the next year's workshop. The students respond in a manner that creates an effective needs-based workshop. Due to the success of this workshop, AASV is preparing to send Dr Firkins on the road to deliver this same type of information at a number of colleges. Much of what he presents is applicable to all types of species interests, but his presentations will also expose a wider number of students to the possibilities of swine practice.

Part of the process of mentoring students is increasing their knowledge of swine health and production. This may take several forms. The AASV has just published the 3rd edition of the Swine Disease Manual, edited by Dr Kent Schwartz. This publication is a straight-forward presentation on swine diseases. It contains basic information that will be especially helpful for students and for those teaching swine diseases. It is available to all veterinary students and members at a nominal cost.

As we all know, some of the best education takes place in a practice setting or on a farm. The AASV Foundation is supporting this notion by offering a $200 stipend to any senior veterinary student spending at least 2 weeks in a practice with a significant swine component. Students are required to report back on their experiences. Their responses are overwhelmingly positive about the practical education they have received. The foundation is also embarking on a new plan to fund applied research conducted by student and practitioner partnerships. More information will be forthcoming on this initiative.

On a broader scale, the AASV has been involved in two initiatives that will impact students. The first was the passage and signing into law of the National Veterinary Medical Services Act. This act will provide for debt forgiveness for veterinarians working in underserved areas of the profession, including food animal practices in rural areas. Both Dr Rick Sibbel and Dr John Waddell are now working on the establishment of the infrastructure needed to administer this program. AASV will also be actively urging Congress to move forward on the funding for this program.

The other initiative impacting the future of swine veterinary medicine is the Food Animal Summit Task Force research proposal. This study will concentrate on estimating the future demand for food animal veterinarians and maintaining the availability of these veterinarians. In support for this research, the AASV is providing funds of $40,000 over the course of the next 2 years. The study will reach across all sectors of animal agriculture. The end result will provide information not only on future demand, but also on means to better recruit, select, and retain students in food animal practice.

In 2002, the AASV Membership-PR Committee completed the first salary survey of AASV members. The survey results revealed that significant financial rewards await those veterinarians interested in a career in the swine industry. The demand for swine veterinarians is still present, as evidenced by starting salaries that are higher than those for veterinarians treating other species. If the AASV and its members do not continue to accept the responsibility for raising the next generation of swine veterinarians, then no one else will.