March and April, 1998

A practitioner's view of a Master of Science study program as part of a rewarding veterinary career

Thomas J. Fangman DVM, MS

TJF: University of Missouri, w234 Veterinary Medicine Extension, Columbia, Missouri 65211

As a progressive, mixed-animal practitioner interested in pork production and the survivability of family-farm pork-production systems, I became very concerned about the apparent gap of information as production units continued to expand and emphasis on efficiencies continued to increase. Professionally, I was beginning to feel somewhat inadequate in some areas of pork production and I was unfamiliar with many industry changes. In an effort to improve my own knowledge so that I could better serve my clientele, I began to search for solutions.

As a part of this search, I learned that my training up to this point had enabled me to become extremely adept in problem solving and in pursuing a questioning process that revealed the cause of a disease or physiological system failure.

In a rapidly changing pork-production environment, the veterinarian must not only be familiar with the current literature as it applies to diseases and treatments, but must also be aware of the economical implications of health recommendations. Understanding the impact of disease on production parameters and pig throughput is also required. Previous veterinary curriculums have not attempted to address the holistic training approach required to expose interested students to the challenges and excitement of swine production medicine.

As I gained experience with pork-production systems, I became aware of the multifactorial interaction between health, nutrition, environment, and management. It was at this time that I realized the limitations of my professional expertise in areas outside of health and disease status. I continued to learn about nutrition and environmental effects in the school of hard knocks. As the producers I served continued to expand the number of sows they managed, the need for expert advice and input became extremely urgent.

I realized that to best serve my clients I had to focus on enhancing my own personal knowledge base so that I could provide them with sound advice that included the other factors that effect a production system, especially nutrition.

Through Drs. Rick Tubbs and David Hardin, the University of Missouri extension provided the resources to enhance my background in biochemistry, monogastric nutrition, statistics, and business management as well as exposing me to large-scale production systems and their production philosophies. This opportunity and advanced training have proved to be invaluable to my clients and invaluable to the pursuit of this wonderful career we call veterinary medicine.

The Master of Science study program has clarified many questions and has made the most sense of any of my professional training up to this point. Being exposed to three semesters of statistics makes it easier for me to understand the literature I read. Attempting to answer a focused question has led me to a greater appreciation of previous work conducted in the same area of interest. By learning how to conduct a literature review and locate articles and information, a whole new world of information has been revealed. If nothing else, I've realized just how many other people in the world are also thinking about the questions I've tried to answer -- the difficulties encountered and the clues uncovered in attempts to reveal the truth.

This is where the clinical experience and feedback of veterinary practitioners in the field becomes invaluable. With a greater understanding of experimental design and the use of statistical interpretation, practitioners could become a greater contributor to the understanding of disease pathogenesis and the impact of disease on production parameters and pig throughput.

I encourage any and all veterinarians and veterinary students who may have an interest in a specialty field to consider advanced studies in that field and to possibly consider the specialized field of swine production medicine. This endeavor may lead to career enhancement and professional fulfillment through the understanding of scientific process and enhance the advancement of a field of interest through the sharing of information with our peers.

For more information on pursuing advanced training and possibly an advanced degree in veterinary medicine, don't hesitate to contact the veterinary extension office of the university in your state.