The sweeping vistas of West Texas offer many opportunities to practice veterinary medicine–and Hannah Johnson wanted to explore her options firsthand.
To do so, the third-year Texas A&M University veterinary student decided to devote part of her summer participating in the Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach (VERO) Food Production Tour.
The six-day tour, offered through an innovative partnership between Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, takes students to different sites involved with the food animal production industry, as well as to rural veterinary clinics.
“For me, the tour was a chance to see more of the medicine I want to practice in West Texas and to meet new people connected to the field,” Johnson said.
Living in rural West Texas and working with animals has always appealed to the Idalou resident, who is entering her third year as a veterinary student; she sees practicing in a city like Idalou—with its population of about 2,300 people—as an opportunity to serve where veterinary services are needed most.
“I grew up in small town, Texas, and fell in love with West Texas when my family moved to Idalou before my junior year of high school,” said Johnson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas Tech University in 2017.
“I can’t say there was ever a defining moment were I decided to become a vet. I was one of those kids who just always wanted to be one,” she said. “I love working with animals and I love the medicine aspect of it, as well. Working as a technician through undergrad just cemented my desire to pursue vet school.”
The Food Animal Production & Rural Practice Tour, which first started in 2008, is based at WTAMU, which is situated near a significant percentage of the beef industry. Approximately 30 percent of the nation’s beef cattle are fed within 200 miles of Canyon.
Students visited clinics in Muleshoe, Panhandle, Dimmit, and Dalhart, where they saw a wide range of veterinary practices that serve the needs of their rural communities. They offer traditional veterinary services for their food animal producers but offer veterinary care, including acupuncture, for their companion animals and equine clients.
They also saw how these practices interacted with the beef cattle, dairy, and swine industries. The students also learned more about the animal production industry through visiting a Holstein feed yard, a packing plant, WTAMU’s meat science facility, and Texas Cattle Feeders Association’s diagnostic lab.
Johnson, who was among 13 Aggies who participated in the 2019 Food Animal Production & Rural Practice Tour , found the trip deepened her knowledge and sparked her interest.
“I learned so much about practicing medicine in the food animal industries,” Johnson said. “It is very different from small animal medicine where each individual patient is brought in, versus with food animals, where the herd is the focus.”
Ultimately, the tour is designed to provide insights into potential career paths that students might not otherwise consider.
“When they go to the dairies and feedlots, they see how these animals are actually cared for and the important leadership role that the veterinarian plays,” said Dr. Dan Posey, VERO academic coordinator. “It’s all about taking care of animals.”
Fourth-year veterinary students will begin clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle in 2020, new students will begin enrolling in veterinary classes at VERO facility to start their first year of veterinary school in 2021
To read the full text of Green’s speech, click here.
CANYON, Texas—Students from the Texas Panhandle won’t have to travel far from home to become Aggie veterinarians thanks to a new 2+2 program announced Thursday morning by West Texas A&M (WTAMU) and Texas A&M universities. Once all the necessary approvals have been obtained, veterinary students will be able to spend the first two years of their veterinary curriculum in Canyon on the WTAMU campus in the Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach (VERO) facility.
During a press conference at the construction site of the $22-million VERO facility being built on the WTAMU campus, WTAMU President Walter Wendler, Texas A&M President Michael Young, and the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M Eleanor M. Green discussed the decade-long plan to bring Texas A&M’s top 4-ranked Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program to WTAMU through the VERO initiative.
Beginning May 2020, veterinary students wanting to work in food animal or mixed animal medicine will have the option of completing a number ofnew clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle, as part of their yearlong fourth-year clinical rotations.
“Texas A&M University has been committed to extending its nationally-ranked College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences to more effectively reach citizens across the expanse of Texas. An example of this is the VERO facility, funded through our Permanent University Fund,” Young said.
“The 2+2 program extends the reach of both Texas A&M and West Texas A&M, which is especially critical in an area that is home to the largest food animal production region in the nation,” he said. “Bringing excellent faculty here enhances the effectiveness of the college and opens new opportunities for students in the Texas Panhandle to become Aggie veterinarians.”
The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is in the process of seeking approval for the 2+2 program, with a plan to open the application process in the fall of 2020 and begin offering DVM classes at WTAMU for an initial cohort of 20 first- and second-year DVM students beginning in the fall of 2021.
Through the 2+2 program, veterinary students will be able to take the classes during their first two years of veterinary school through the VERO program, a partnership between WTAMU and the CVM, and then travel to College Station for their final two years.
Those students won’t be gone for long, however; in their fourth year, those students will have the ability to return home for a number ofclinical rotations.
“The new clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle will offer immediate engagement and additional unique and readily applicable experiences for DVM students who want to pursue food animal and production medicine as a career path,” Green said.
“These clinical rotations will provide students the opportunity to spend time in rural-practice settings with both private practitioners and Texas A&M faculty members,” she said. “Rotations will offer a chance to gain experience in the most important aspects of the industry in West Texas—including rotations through feedlots, dairies, and cow/calf, swine, and other livestock operations. Beginning in the spring 2021 semester, food animal students will also have the opportunity to spend clinical rotations in the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL), located in Canyon, where they will learn about diagnostic laboratory medicine, which is of critical importance to production animal health.”
In preparation to begin offering classes at WTAMU, the two universities have begun putting to use funds appropriated by the Texas Legislature during its 86th session by announcing the hiring of additional faculty members to teach in the program at the VERO facility.
“Over the next two years, at nearly $2 million a year, eight to 10 faculty will be hired through the legislative appropriations process to support new graduate student assistantships in the 2+2 program at West Texas A&M University,” Wendler said. “These students will seamlessly dovetail into the DVM program at Texas A&M University, which is one of the best in the nation.
“This program is twofold,” he continued. “It will prepare graduates for the food animal industry in one of the most concentrated meat and dairy production areas of the world, and it will train veterinary students to serve rural communities in support of WTAMU’s generational plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. Currently, our pre-vet program has more than 50 students.”
These faculty and graduate student additions to the CVM’s DVM program are just two of many rural and food animal-oriented programs the CVM has initiated over the past 10 years.
The Texas A&M University System has committed $90 million to the state agriculture industry on the WTAMU campus, including funds for the 22,000-square-foot VERO facility, which will house the 2+2 DVM curriculum, serve as a learning space to supplement the existing DVM externship programs and the new clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle, as well as a regional veterinary teaching center that will facilitate collaborative, multidisciplinary research among scientists from across the region.
“We are grateful to the Texas legislators for investing in this program bound to be the best of its kind, as it advances the livestock industries, veterinary medicine, career opportunities for young people, and local economy,” Green said. “Our VERO team, which includes renowned food animal faculty members who are embedded at WTAMU, have strengthened our ‘Serving Every Texan Every Day’ initiative by facilitating the recruitment of veterinary school applicants with a mixed animal and large animal interest, doing impactful research, providing education, and serving the food animal industry.”
Team VERO and the Serving Every Texan Every Day memoranda of agreement with WTAMU has resulted in 23 DVM students in the CVM’s entering classes of ’21 and ’22 having been recruited from rural communities, many of whom came from the Texas Panhandle and West Texas A&M University.
In addition, Texas A&M graduates the highest number and percent of rural and mixed animal veterinarians in the nation, with 33 percent of the class of 2017 and 40 percent of the class of 2018 working in food animal and mixed animal practices in rural communities.
“We also are excited about the new DVM fourth-year clinical rotations and the new 2+2 program that will be offered in the Texas Panhandle and what these programs will bring to veterinary students in all four years of their curriculum; they will have exceptional opportunities to gain hands-on experience in rural and livestock veterinary medicine in the livestock epicenter of our nation,” Green said.
These new opportunities will dovetail nicely into existing livestock veterinary programs, like the long-standing Food Animal Production Tour, which recently reached a milestone of introducing its 100thstudent to these industries through an activity that showcases all of what the Texas Panhandle has to offer. In addition, the Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program, initiated in 2017, has brought dozens of CVM students to the Panhandle to spend the summer gaining hands-on experience in the cattle, swine, and dairy industries, as well as in rural veterinary practices.
Finally, a $243,500 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) received by VERO director Dr. Dee Griffin in 2018 has allowed for the development, initiation, and support of seven veterinary-centered programs for veterinary students who travel to the Texas Panhandle for these opportunities.
For more information, contact the VERO program at 806-651-2292.
Jacob Willingham’s early years were spent at county fairs and major livestock shows across Texas.
The Milano native started showing pigs and eventually bought a handful of sows so he could raise his own pigs. Soon, he was showing heifers and even today continues to raise cattle to sell to family friends.
Not surprisingly, Willingham’s experience raising and showing large animals, as well as growing up with his family’s beloved family pets, helped guide his interest toward a career in veterinary medicine.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a veterinarian,” he said.
Besides his early experience raising and showing livestock, the first-generation Aggie also kept a laser-like focus on his intended career path during his undergraduate studies at Texas A&M. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in animal science, Willingham worked as a student worker in the CVM’s Large Animal Hospital, where he was on call one night a week and one weekend a month to help set up the operating room for equine patients.
“I learned a ton,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of background in horses.”
Yet, while finishing his second year as a veterinary student at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), Willingham realized that he didn’t have enough knowledge about what’s involved in a mixed-animal veterinary practice to make a good decision about where to focus his career.
That’s where the intensive six-day Food Animal Production & Rural Practice Tour came in. Organized by the Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach (VERO) program, an innovative partnership between the CVM and West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, the tour offers students a window into the food animal industry and rural veterinary clinics. Since its inception in 2008, 100 students have participated in this tour.
WTAMU is located within 200 miles of where approximately 30 percent of the nation’s beef cattle are fed and finished.
“I wanted to go out to West Texas because that’s where a lot of our beef and dairy production is,” Willingham said. “I wanted to learn how a veterinarian works in that field, as well as in rural areas.”
The VERO Food Animal Production & Rural Practice Tour gave Willingham insight into in a mixed-animal practice and the beef cattle, dairy cattle, and swine industries.
During the tour, the aspiring veterinarians also learned about companion animals, farrowing operations, Jersey cow operations, Holstein feed yards, and packing plants, as well as WTAMU’s meat science facility, the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic lab, and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA). Students heard presentations from Dr. Amber Finke at the Dimmitt Veterinary Clinic on equestrian sports medicine and acupuncture and they met with TCFA representatives to learn more about initiatives to audit cattle welfare and legislative issues related to animal agriculture.
Ultimately, the tour provided participants with insights into a variety of career paths that they might not otherwise have considered.
“I have thought about working in industry; right now, I see myself possibly owning a practice one day. But I initially see myself working for a practice that’s well-established in a rural area,” Willingham said. “I would like to stay fairly close to home, but I’m not opposed to going to the Panhandle. They need good veterinarians up there.”
Asucena Ochoa’s first experiences with cattle were during her Houston high school’s agriculture classes.
Now, however, after participating in Texas A&M University’s innovative Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach (VERO) Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program, Ochoa is considering pursuing a career working in food animal production or in a rural practice that serves both large and small animals.
The VERO internship program, which is a partnership between Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and West Texas A&M University in Canyon, gives students a chance to explore another side of the veterinary profession.
Interns focus their studies on working with either beef cattle, swine, or dairy cattle in the ideal setting, with VERO’s close proximity to a significant percentage of the beef industry; approximately 30 percent of the nation’s feed beef cattle are raised within 200 miles of Canyon.
For the second-year veterinary student, this opportunity was exactly what Ochoa was seeking.
“I didn’t have as much experience or exposure to livestock as I would have liked,” she said. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t have a definitive answer about what I wanted to do with my life.”
She decided to attend Texas A&M as an undergraduate and started taking agriculture classes.
“It wasn’t until my freshman or sophomore year of college that I began to get serious about veterinary medicine, and I started doing internships, getting more experience, and shadowing veterinarians around College Station,” Ochoa said. “I got really passionate that this is what I wanted to do with my life.”
Those experiences led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences with a minor in chemistry and, ultimately, to veterinary school at the CVM.
Milking an Internship
Though she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian, Ochoa still wanted to explore her options regarding the type of medicine she would practice. That’s where the VERO internship comes in.
“Being from Houston, I didn’t feel like I had as many opportunities to get hands-on experience with veterinarians,” she said. “So when Dr. (Dan) Posey (a clinical professor and VERO academic coordinator) came to the CVM and talked to us about this summer program, I really wanted to see if I could come out to the Panhandle and experience what it’s like to be out in a rural practice.”
She decided to focus her internship on dairy cattle because she knew the least about these animals.
Two weeks of her internship were spent at a Dalhart calf ranch, while another four weeks were at Dimmit Muleshoe veterinary clinics. These experiences gave Ochoa the opportunity to apply what she learned in the classroom, including suturing, drawing blood and assisting with surgery.
“It’s been really eye-opening and a great opportunity,” she said.
The Aggie was especially impressed by the systemic approach and the various factors that are taken into account when a veterinarian takes on each case. She also noticed the strong teamwork and communication that was necessary to work in these practices.
“It would be impossible to do everything yourself when working with large animals,” she said.
After this experience, Ochoa is still weighing her career options.
“The internship is helping me make a better decision about what I want to do, instead of feeling as if I am limited because I’ve only had small animal experiences,” she said.
Ultimately, Ochoa would recommend the VERO summer internship program to other students.
“It was a great learning opportunity,” she said. “Many going into veterinary school think they know what they want to do, but they should consider other options.”
As a young boy growing up in Milano, Jacob Willingham started showing pigs at county fairs. He soon was raising his own and widening his agricultural interests to include showing heifers.
So, it’s not surprising that Willingham, now a third-year veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), is interested in working with both large and small animals in a rural area when he graduates.
However, Willingham wanted to explore his options before selecting his career path. That’s why he decided to participate in an intensive tour of the food animal industry and rural veterinary clinics organized by the Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach (VERO) program, an innovative partnership between the CVM and West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon.
“I’d been around food animals but not from a veterinary perspective,” he said. “I hadn’t seen everything that is done by a veterinarian in a rural area. I also wanted to go out to West Texas because that’s where a lot of our beef and dairy production is. I wanted to learn how a veterinarian works in that field.”
The Food Animal Production & Rural Practice Tour was created by CVM faculty Drs. Virginia Fajt, Floren “Buddy” Faries, and Dan Posey in 2008 for students who have completed their second year of veterinary school and are exploring all of the possibilities for careers in veterinary medicine.
The tour is hosted on the WTAMU campus by Posey, who is the VERO academic coordinator, as well as Dr. Dee Griffin, VERO director, and Dr. Paul Morley, VERO research director.
Over the past decade, interest has grown, helping the program reach a milestone of enrolling 100 students in 2019.
“When Dr. Fajt and I started this tour in 2008, we were hoping it would be sustainable; we look up 11 years later and are amazed in the impact that this has had in influencing veterinary student’s careers.” Posey said. “Our industry partners, like the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the Texas A&M Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and the rural mixed animal practices of the Panhandle get to observe the number of students from Texas A&M CVM that are interested in food animal veterinary medicine. This milestone is huge.”
The six-day tour was designed to introduce students to various aspects of the food animal production industry, as well as to rural veterinary clinics. WTAMU is situated near a significant percentage of the beef industry; approximately 30 percent of the nation’s beef cattle are raised within 200 miles of Canyon.
It also helps students understand the veterinarian’s role in agriculture and rural communities by showcasing multiple types of production units and introducing concepts and terminology; students visit prototypical, well-run operations that spotlight veterinary career opportunities in rural areas.
For example, students visited Muleshoe Animal Clinic, a large mixed animal rural practice that employs 13 veterinarians. The clinic works with the dairy and beef cattle industry, in addition to serving the small town’s needs.
The aspiring Aggie veterinarians also experienced Panhandle’s Carson County Veterinary Clinic, where one of the veterinarians specializes in companion animals. The students’ perspectives were further expanded at the Dimmit Veterinary Clinic, which offers services in acupuncture and equestrian sports medicine.
In Dalhart, students learned from Dr. Scanlon Daniels, who has a rural mixed practice that includes the swine and dairy industry. As part of the tour, students went with Daniels to tour a farrowing operation and a Jersey cow operation.
The students learned more about the animal production industry through visiting a Holstein feedyard, a packing plant, WTAMU’s meat science facility, and the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab in Amarillo.
The tour meets with Texas Cattle Feeders Association representatives to learn more about the feeding industry, initiatives to audit cattle welfare, and legislative issues related to animal agriculture.
Ultimately, the tour is designed to provide insights into potential career paths that students might not otherwise consider.
“When they go to the dairies and feedlots, they see how these animals are actually cared for and the important leadership role that the veterinarian plays,” Posey said. “It’s all about taking care of animals.”
This experience not only opened students’ eyes, but helped them make important contacts.
“For me, the tour was a chance to see more of the medicine I want to practice in West Texas and meet new people connected to the field,” said Hannah Johnson, a third-year student who hails from Idalou. “I would highly recommend this tour to anyone interested in food animal medicine or mixed animal practice. West Texas is a great place to live and work and this is a great opportunity to experience it.”
Growing up in Jamaica, Orville Tucker was surrounded by neighbors whose farms included goats, cows, chickens, dogs, and cats. A boyhood spent in close proximity to a wide variety of animals inspired Tucker’s decision to become a veterinarian.
“I always wanted to help animals since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I figured that if I was going to do anything for the rest of my life and call it work, it would need to involve animals because I wouldn’t enjoy anything else.”
Now a second-year veterinary student in Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), Tucker is learning the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue his dream career.
To apply the lessons he’s learned in the classroom, Tucker decided to dedicate this summer participating in the CVM’s innovative Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach (VERO) Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program.
Through the internship program, VERO, a partnership between CVM and West Texas A&M University in Canyon, gives students a chance to explore another side of the veterinary profession, allowing interns to focus on working with either beef cattle, swine, or dairy cattle.
The Panhandle setting is ideal because of VERO’s close proximity to a significant percentage of the beef industry; approximately 30 percent of the nation’s beef cattle are raised within 200 miles of Canyon.
Putting Knowledge into Practice
Tucker already had studied beef cattle during his undergraduate classes at Texas A&M University-Commerce, but wanted to learn more. That led to him to a presentation by Dr. Dan Posey, clinical professor and academic coordinator for the VERO program.
“Dr. Posey described the summer internship program as being an experience that would change the path of your veterinary career,” Tucker said. “I knew I didn’t have that much background with large animals, farm life, and country life. I wanted to see if this was something I wanted to do.”
The internship, which involved working full-time during the week and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, gave him exactly what he was seeking.
Tucker spent a month at a Dalhart feedlot where he worked with the feedlot doctoring crew, pen riders to assess cattle health, feedmill staff, the yard/maintenance crew, and drivers who deliver feed.
The next four weeks of his summer were spent in a mixed animal practice in Plainview. This gave Tucker the opportunity to work with a mixed animal veterinarian and learn to interact with clients, assist with physical exams, and assist in surgeries.
Tucker found that his summer experience offered additional depth in working with large animals.
“This internship has challenged me to become more competent in talking to clients about dentals or vaccines,” he said. “It’s also given me practice in technical skills, such as scrubbing in for surgery and placing catheters, and critical thinking about what we want to do for our patients.”
The VERO summer internship program also aligned with Tucker’s desire to fully explore his professional options.
“When I started veterinary school, I wanted to keep my mind open to everything,” he said, adding that his CVM coursework focuses on both large and small animals. “I think I’m going to stay with mixed animal medicine because I’ve gotten to learn more about these other species beyond just the cats and dogs that I grew up with. I really think I’d enjoy working with difference species of animals.”
He’s also experienced what it’s like to live in the Texas Panhandle.
“It’s a lot more spacious than I thought,” he said.
Tucker and his fellow Aggies have used their free time to explore the Panhandle, including West Texas A&M’s Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and the TEXAS Outdoor Musical at Palo Duro Canyon.
Finding a Sense of Home
Tucker, who is now a U.S. citizen, plans to share his knowledge with his extended family and neighbors in his home country.
“Farm animals are important in Jamaica,” he said. “Having knowledge about how to work with farm animals will be important when I go back to visit family and friends.”
He also has been impressed with the area and could see why veterinarians would be drawn to the region.
“It’s nice; you definitely can make a life up here,” Tucker said, adding that he wants to continue to explore Texas before deciding where to put down roots. “I want to see more places and see where my experiences take me. At the end of it all, where the opportunity presents itself, I’ll go.”
Growing up in Houston, Asucena Ochoa ’17 had few opportunities outside of her high school agriculture classes to be around livestock.
Now thanks to the innovative Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach (VERO) program, a partnership between Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and West Texas A&M University (WTAMU), Ochoa and seven other Texas A&M students spent the summer gaining that experience by participating in a veterinary internship in the Texas Panhandle.
The VERO Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program, housed at WTAMU, in Canyon, gives students a chance to explore another side of the veterinary profession through working with beef cattle, swine, and dairy cattle, the latter of which has been the focus of Ochoa’s summer studies.
The setting is ideal because of the VERO’s close proximity to a significant percentage of the beef industry; approximately 30 percent of the nation’s beef cattle are raised within 200 miles of Canyon.
Cattle, swine, and horses
The summer internship program, now in its third year, deepens students’ knowledge base by placing them with ranches and feedlots to work with food animals and the attending veterinarians.
Interns gain a wide variety of experiences, including delivering feed, doing animal welfare checks, and working with the doctoring crew.
“Students find out whether this career path is something they want to do,” said Dr. Dan Posey, clinical professor and academic coordinator for the VERO program. “Even if they rule out practicing as a beef cattle veterinarian, they have extensive knowledge of how the feedyard works.”
Aspiring veterinarians also spend part of the summer at rural veterinary clinics in small communities such as Dimmit, Muleshoe, and Claude.
“These are excellent rural veterinarians,” Posey said. “I would stack them up against any practitioner in Texas or around the world because of the quality of medicine that they do. This experience probably defines what students do in their career because this is where we see the light bulbs really turn on.”
The internship also offers several other meaningful experiences.
For instance, students assist Posey in providing clinical services to horses at feedyards and Panhandle prison units. And in an important addition to the 2019 internship program, interns are learning about the secure beef supply plan. This plan is used to secure livestock in case of an outbreak of highly infectious and dangerous diseases, such as foot and mouth disease.
Applying classroom learning
Ultimately, these internships give students a wealth of unique experiences and the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom.
“After a year of veterinary school and learning and practicing all these new things, we have all these new knowledge and skills,” said Orville Tucker, who is focusing his internship on beef cattle. “This internship has challenged me to become more competent in talking to clients about dentals or vaccines. It’s also given me practice in technical skills, such as scrubbing in for surgery and placing catheters, and critical thinking about what we want to do for our patients.”