Straight talk


Veterinary students who are interested in practicing in food-animal production were asked to comment on what attracts them to swine practice, and what drives them away.

From Andrea Lazier, University of Guelph

“I am interested in swine medicine because it gives me the opportunity to work with some very interesting and intelligent people as well as some interesting and intelligent animals. Someone once said to me: ˜I’m not sure which came first, the great sense of humor or working with pigs, but they certainly go hand-in-hand.’

I wouldn’t say it drives me away, but the biggest hurdle to overcome in learning swine medicine so far has been the very small amount of swine content in the curriculum at Guelph. It’s not so much a discouragement as a lack of encouragement and just means I have to go elsewhere to fill in the gaps.”

From Jaime Clark-Streff, Iowa State University

“When asked what turned me away from swine medicine, I drew a complete blank. A wise classmate, Travis Hargens, told me,˜You can’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.’ The more I thought about what to say, the more the advice made sense. I grew up in rural Wisconsin and the most exposure I’ve had to swine includes Charlotte’s Web1 and helping friends get their hogs ready for the fair. So instead of ignorantly discussing what turns me away from swine medicine, I’ve decided to discuss why I have not been drawn to swine medicine. My perception of the swine industry includes a lot of herd health, rather than treating the individual; lots of necropsies, rather than diagnostics; and a lot of overall management considerations. The idea of checking ventilation of facilities and hog density, and trying to keep track of the facility’s herd movement is a turnoff to me. Showering in and out of each facility I visit in a day seems like a big pain, and the smell of swine manure is not a longing of mine on an everyday basis. Talking with the farmers is one of my favorite parts of dairy medicine, and I get the perception that in the larger confinement operations in both dairy and swine, it is difficult to have communication with the owners or managers who don’t always know what is being done by employees in the facility.

I do look forward to the day when I can help the 4-H and FFA kids get their hogs ready for fairs, and when one of my clients has a few pigs that need to be looked at. I really have nothing against swine medicine and maybe with some more exposure to it I would have been more interested in it. I think the Swine Production Immersive Knowledge Experience program is a great addition to the curriculum at Iowa State University. If I had had an experience with that program, I might have been converted. Thank God for those swine guys and gals; I’ll be enjoying the dairy farms.”

From Aaron Lower, University of Illinois

“From a student’s perspective, the network that swine veterinarians, veterinary schools, and the AASV have developed is a powerful attraction for students into swine practice. If a student is interested in learning about swine production or in doing a research study, there is always an opportunity for those students. Practitioners, professors, and pharmaceutical companies do a great job of lining up swine experiences for students. Additionally, swine medicine is one of the few areas students can work in that has paying summer experiences. Swine practice is also an attraction because veterinarians do much more than just examine health. They are called upon to consult in many other ways such as training, building design, and company business decisions. Swine practice pays you for your mind, not for the margin on drugs that you sell.

There are several issues that drive students away from swine practice. The most common reason is that students are unfamiliar with swine production and the veterinarian’s role in the industry. Secondly, pork production is constantly under a poor public perception with regard to animal welfare, factory farming, and environmental pollution. It is difficult to be excited about an industry that must be continuously defended.”

From Dean Cline, Iowa State University

“If I were to enter the field of swine medicine, it would probably be due to the fairly consistent hours, very few after-hours emergencies, ability to work in a rural area, working on a herd basis, and compensation. The fact that swine producers are some of the first people to embrace new and advanced technologies is also a big reason that I would consider a career in swine medicine.

What drives me away from swine practice? The biggest reason is that I did not grow up in an area that had very many swine operations at all, thus I have never really been interested in swine medicine. A small turn-off to the swine industry is the odor in swine units. I have heard of practitioners who have developed health problems that are believed to be related to breathing the noxious gases and the dust from the feed. The noise that is generally involved while in a swine operation tends to be a deterrent as well.”

From Christine Pelland, University of Guelph

“Having experienced the swine industry through various avenues, I would have to say the most attractive aspect would be the interaction with the people in this business. Through contact with swine producers, practitioners, and the animals themselves, I have come to appreciate what this species has to offer. The swine industry continues to expand, and with this expansion come fascinating new technologies and management strategies that many are embracing. Most producers I have met are willing to work with veterinarians to do what is necessary to keep the pigs healthy and content in the most efficient way possible. However, it becomes frustrating when most of the time they are limited by economics. The ups and downs of the swine industry would be hard to deal with– listening to producers speak of good times when prices were high to very low times when they are essentially losing money producing pigs. This seems like it can be difficult to wrap your mind around and accept. Overall, I feel that I owe my strongest pull in the swine practice direction to the constant interaction with fascinating, dedicated, progressive thinkers who will continue to challenge me throughout my career, as well as a deep respect for these animals and the people that produce them.”

From Tyson Dinslage, Iowa State University

“I don’t think any aspect of veterinary medicine holds the potential to help as many animals as swine practice. The modern approach to swine production allows you to be able to prevent disease outbreaks in a production unit, possibly affecting thousands of pigs per site. Not many other areas of veterinary medicine can boast that. This is reassuring to me, knowing that I can help so many animals, while increasing profits for producers.

I don’t know if I really have anything that drives me away from swine practice. I could say the smell, but every veterinarian deals with smells, whether on a dairy farm or expressing anal glands of a dog. Smell is just something that you have to deal with.”

From Kristopher J. Eads, North Carolina State University

“My interest in swine medicine began when I attended the 2005 AASV meeting in Toronto. I was fortunate enough to have been offered a summer internship with Elanco Animal Health. While working with a company veterinarian, I was exposed to large production systems and the life of a swine veterinarian. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the swine industry and the opportunities as well as challenges it has to offer. From the perspective of a future swine veterinarian, the challenges of population medicine are exciting and rewarding. From a health perspective, there are a number of challenges facing us in the swine industry, ranging from PCVAD and PRRSV to the same old bacterial and viral pathogens that have always been with us. There are also other fronts on which the swine industry is constantly embattled, namely, the animal rights activists. Regardless of what trials this industry faces, I look forward to working through them in an effort to find a resolution.

I’m not sure I know enough about the industry to speak about the negatives of swine practice. Personally, there isn’t anything driving me away from swine medicine. However, my perceptions of some of the adversities would be the long working hours, the lengthy travel between farms, all fingers pointing at the veterinarian when things go wrong, and inter-company politics.”

From Patrick Hoffmann, Iowa State University

“What attracts me to swine medicine is practicing population or large-group medicine. A single decision could have an impact on thousands of animals. Most importantly, I enjoy interacting with the producers or managers on the farms. Once trust and respect is established between the client and practitioner, the pig issues kind of take care of themselves.

What drives people away from swine medicine is a lack of knowledge of the species and the industry. This is a direct result of fewer students coming from a farm background.”

From Lynda Gould, University of Illinois

“Deciding on an area of specialty within the field of veterinary medicine is a challenging task. Personally, I have narrowed down my own options to something including large animals, but this could range anywhere from mixed practice to a swine-only clinic. Of course, there are many draws that are specific to swine medicine: good hours, few emergency calls, and mostly regular appointments. Yet these are not the benefits that should be considered when determining to what field I will devote the rest of my professional life. The characteristics of the swine industry that matter most are often both attractive and discouraging at the same time. The continuing fight to strike a balance with animal rights activists, economic viability, and maintaining or improving herd health in a confinement setting are just a few examples. As industry standards rise, these challenges will continue to increase in importance over the course of my career, and only I can decide if these are the unique issues to which I want to devote myself.”


1. White EB. Charlotte’s Web. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers; 1980.

--Tracy Ann Raef