Heading West–Food-animal production tour introduces students to West Texas

Michelle Morelli and Pamela May
Michelle Morelli and Pamela May

Summers are crucial for students, as evidenced by the internship, externship, technical, and professional development opportunities that fill students’ email inboxes and job boards in the months leading up to spring semester final exams.

Summer opportunities sometimes help students discover particular challenges of a specific field of work, while leading others to their dream job.

Last summer, two students from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) took on the West Texas winds and had an experience they will never forget.

As part of a new program created by Dr. Dan Posey, academic coordinator for the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center (TVMC) at West Texas A&M University, and Dr. Dee Griffin, TVMC director, third-year veterinary students Pamela May and Michelle Morelli participated in a food animal production externship in West Texas. The program was developed for students who have completed their second year of veterinary school.

Posey tailored the program to fit the interests of program participants, but its goal is to expose students to the needs of rural West Texas food animal production.

May said the program revealed to her the stark contrast between veterinary practices in rural and urban areas.

“It’s very different in a rural area versus a teaching hospital or any of the private practices that are in Houston or Dallas,” May said. “It’s all very, very different. This program was a very big exposure to that.”

A South Padre Island native who is on the CVM’s food-animal track in order to pursue beef production medicine,

May did not grow up with a food animal background, but discovered a passion for food-animal medicine as Posey’s mentee, as well as through her experiences on the production tour and summer externship program Posey developed.

May began her summer working at a 50,000-head beef cattle feedlot and then finished with two-week rotations at mixed animal practices. She said her experiences exposed her to a different world of food animal production that she had yet to experience.

“Before I went on the production tour in May, I had never been to a feed yard, and it was different from what the media portrays a feed yard to be,” May said. “I got to learn how it works from the ground up. They taught me how to work cattle, a lot of the basics you don’t learn in school.”

Morelli’s experience was tailored to her interests in the dairy industry.

Growing up in the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania, Morelli conducted small livestock projects in high school, but found her love for agriculture, and specifically dairy production, as an undergraduate at Penn State University.

Morelli spent three weeks at two different mixed-animal practices and rotated between two consultant veterinarians who have contracts with farms, mostly dairies. She said she experienced a wide range of cases and learned how to apply her classroom skills to real-life situations.

“At the mixed-animal practice, in the mornings, we would go to different dairy farms,” Morelli said. “In the afternoons, we would go back to the practice and we would see mostly small-animal patients. Sometimes farm animals would come in, so I got to see a lot of everything.”

Though their summer activities varied, May and Morelli both said the summer was invaluable to their education. Morelli said she faced challenges throughout the summer, but the growth she experienced made the challenges worth it. She encourages other students to not fear taking a risk.

“Getting up at 4 a.m. isn’t exactly the most fun, but putting yourself out there gets you a lot of really invaluable experience,” Morelli said. “There were a lot of things I did that I had never done before.

“I did a lot of first things. Was I necessarily ready to do them in that moment? No, but the veterinarians understood that and were there for me,” she said. “Taking those risks is what’s really important.”

May enjoyed the program location and hopes to return to the West Texas area to practice veterinary medicine.

“I do think that I will end up back there,” May said. “My main goal is making a difference in how producers view women in veterinary medicine, especially in food-animal medicine. There are a lot more women coming into the field, and I want producers to know that women can do what male veterinarians can do.”

As a student on track to become a food-animal veterinarian, Morelli said she hopes to repair the disconnect between consumers and producers in the conversation about food-animal production.

“I want to try and show people that the people who do produce animals that end up going to the food system really do care about the animals’ well-being,” Morelli said. “They don’t want to see their animals in pain or suffering, and they do everything they can to try and fix that. We all do care about the same thing.”

May and Morelli both said they could not have done this on their own, expressing gratitude toward Posey for all he did to create a program that enhanced their passion for the food-animal field.

“Dr. Posey made the experience what it was, and he made it perfect for me,” May said.

“It was great that Dr. Posey had the connections and set us up with the people who would go above and beyond for us,” Morelli said.

May and Morelli said Griffin, who also is a Texas A&M CVM clinical professor located at West Texas A&M, also played a large mentoring role for their respective programs.

Griffin was named mentor of the year for 2017 at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. May said the award is fitting.

“They started announcing the award by telling us to close our eyes and picture our mentor,” May said. “I pictured Dr. Posey and Dr. Griffin. Low and behold, Dr. Griffin was the one getting mentor of the year.”

Out of all the professional and technical development opportunities presented to veterinary students for the summer, May and Morelli encourage anyone to pursue the West Texas production program.

“It was an experience that I couldn’t get here (in College Station),” May said. “I would encourage anyone to pursue this program.”

“If you want to get a real, hands-on experience and figure out how things are done with clients and how to get through the decision-making process, this is a really great experience,” Morelli said.


For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive
Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of CVM Today magazine.

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