Kate Jimerson: My Summer Internship in the Texas Panhandle

I was raised in the small, rural community of George West, Texas. My passion for the field of veterinary medicine started early in life. I grew up around various species of animals and at a very young age I went with my father, who is an agricultural science teacher, to visit his students’ animal science projects. This was the beginning of my understanding that using scientific knowledge to treat animals, while still having compassion for pet owners, is what veterinary medicine is about.

I graduated with my undergraduate degree from the animal science program at Texas A&M in December 2016. I chose Texas A&M because of its reputation as one of the most respected schools for agriculture in the nation, not to mention both my parents, several aunts and uncles, and all my cousins graduated from here.

My small-town background proved beneficial when I accepted the Food Animal and Rural Practice Summer Internship Program. My experience in this program, offered through the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) to second- and third-year veterinary students, started off in June; I spent the entire month at a feedlot in Happy, Texas, where I worked with a doctoring crew treating cattle, learned about the nutritional aspect of the feedlot by working in the mill, and spent time in the office seeing the managing side of things.

In July, I spent two weeks at the Carson County Veterinary Clinic in Panhandle, Texas, where I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Joe Hillhouse, clinic owner and the director of the American Association of Bovine Practioners’ (AABP) District 8. Finally, the last two weeks of July were spent at a clinic in Dimmitt, Texas, with Dr. Zach Smith.

I chose to apply for the summer internship because I wanted to experience a side of veterinary medicine I had not yet seen. I believed the opportunity to work at a feedlot and see how these large-scale operations function would prove beneficial to my future in veterinary medicine. The month I spent at the feedlot was one of the most memorable months of my life. I learned so much about food animal veterinary medicine, as well as nutrition and feedlot management. I was also very interested in seeing veterinary medicine in a rural community other than my own. I learned more than I could have imagined and the knowledge I gained, and things I experienced, are things I’ll never forget.

Before this internship, I had never been to a feedlot, but during my time in the Panhandle, I was able to work in a large-scale operation in Happy, Texas. It was an amazing opportunity. I was able to learn so much, and I know for a fact that the experiences I had at the feedlot are going to benefit me throughout my veterinary career.

Among my favorite things about my internship with Dr. Hillhouse were the sense of cohesiveness and the community values in Panhandle, which are similar to the community where I grew up.

These community values were evident each time Dr. Hillhouse and I had lunch in town. During each meal, at least three people from the community would approach us to tell Dr. Hillhouse something about their pet/animals, ask him a question about something going on in the town, or just stop to say hello. It wasn’t just the friendliness and kindness of the people that amazed me, but also how Dr. Hillhouse seemed to know every one of them on a personal level and how he was genuinely interested in everything they said.

Coming from an agriculture background, I was not surprised to see all of the different aspects of the agricultural industry come together. I have been around the industry my entire life and have been able to see firsthand the passion and technology that go into the industry.

My ultimate career goal is to, after a few years of working under an experienced veterinarian, go back to the rural area I am from and open my own clinic. Bringing veterinary medicine to an area in great need of a veterinarian and becoming a positive influence in the community is something for which I am willing to work a lifetime.

I know one of the major issues young veterinarians such as myself will be facing coming out of school is repaying the debt they accumulated. Finding a job in a rural practice that is going to be able to compensate young veterinarians to help us pay off our loans is also a huge issue. Utilizing the Veterinary Loan Repayment Program and its intended outcome of helping offset educational debt will be vital in addressing veterinary presence in underserved areas.

I believe that the CVM’s coordinated efforts are a step in the right direction for rural Texas communities. Bringing students in from TAMU System schools in the hopes that they will return to these rural communities to practice, is one way to approach the need for rural veterinarians in Texas. Increasing the desire for young veterinarians to return to a rural community because of experiences they have gained in those communities, is just one step in a larger initiative. The Food Animal and Rural Practice Summer Internship Program is also one huge step in the right direction because it allows students who might not have any other opportunity to see how rural veterinary medicine practices operate.