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University of Missouri Veterinary Program Works to Tackle Rural Issues

KBIA file photo
KBIA file photo

Rural areas throughout the state, and areas around the country, are facing hospital and veterinary service closures. KBIA’s Abby Ivory-Ganja spoke the University of Missouri Professor of Food Animal Medicine and Surgery John Middleton about how the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine is working to incentivize students to work in rural areas.

Middleton: I mean, if you look at the class size and uh the college of veterinary medicine when I arrived here in 2001, it was about 65 or 68 students graduating. We've doubled our class size. We now graduate around 110 to around 120 students a year. Granted all of that enrollment is not necessarily because those students are interested in going into rural mixed practice or large animal practice, but just by virtue of the fact that you increase your class size, you're going to graduate more people with an interest in mixed practice. One of the things that we're trying to address nationwide is, how do we incentivize young graduates to work in rural areas? Rural practice is a difficult situation in some parts of the country because they're having trouble recruiting people to work in those areas. Not only in veterinary medicine, but also in human medicine, and you know if you look at the news, there are rural hospitals that are closing and people have to travel farther for medical care and so forth. So the medical profession, as well as the veterinary medical profession, are dealing with these things, or trying to deal with these things, by incentivizing folks to go into these. There is a state-level program and there's also a national-level program that incentivizes young graduates with a DvM to work in rural areas by compensating them to offset some of their school debt, so there are some programs in place to do that. Unfortunately, those programs have a limited budget associated with them, and so the more funding we can get like that for young folks so they can offset the cost of their education, that's going to help place people in rural environments. But there's some challenges there, too, in that, you know, if we think about some rural areas they used to support a gas station and a general store and those kinds of things and as the populations changed, and we've got less people centered in rural environments and more people centered in urban areas, there's just not the economic base there to support some of those things, either. So sometimes, in some areas, not all areas, it can be difficult to uh support the economy of a private practice, and so those are issues we have to face as well.

Ivory-Ganja: So much of our state and our region here in the Midwest is agriculture based, and you all, in your line of work, are the first line of support to making sure that you know those those production levels are met. So, is that something that's really enforced in the curriculum as well? Is maintaining our state's identity as an agriculture state?

Middleton: We have a spectrum of students that we deal with. Some come from urban backgrounds, some come from rural backgrounds. So some are very familiar with livestock production and what livestock production means, some are not. What we try to do throughout the curriculum starting with the preclinical curriculum, all the way in the first year we take them out to the dairy farm, they get exposed to dairy cows. We take them out to the beef farm, they get exposed to beef cattle. Uh. We take them to the swine facility, they're exposed to swine production. So for those students that don't have much background in agricultural animals, we have what's called a clinical skills course in the freshman curriculum to build some exposure to that. And so they start to understand that these are production animals, and that there is a um economic component to these for many of their owners. Granted, there are people who own agricultural animals, cattle, sheep, goats, as pets, um, but for the most part when we're talking about agriculture in the state, we are a, a uh, large beef cattle in the state. We also have a lot of poultry in the state, some swine in the state, and we have about 95,000 dairy cows in the state. So we've got a nice spectrum of agricultural animals, and so it's important to emphasize, particularly in the Midwest, how important that is to the economy, how a veterinarian then is part of that economy, and if you're going into mixed-animal practice or large animal practice, um, the the perspectives that you need to have about how that agricultural commodity plays a role in the larger economy of the state, the nation, the world.

Taylor Kinnerup is a undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, set to graduate in December 2017 with a degree in radio broadcast. Over the past five years, Taylor has worked at four different news station, including an international reporting internship in Brussels, Belgium. She has held various positions in different news rooms but hopes to pursue a career in producing.