Kristen White: My Summer Internship in the Swine Industry

Over the summer break I had the opportunity to work for Smithfield Hog Production in Laurinburg, North Carolina, through Texas A&M University’s Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program.

I began my journey at West Texas A&M University majoring in biochemistry and minoring in animal science. Upon graduation, I was thrilled to learn that I would be accepted to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) class of 2021. I chose to attend Texas A&M for two reasons—first, since I was a kid, I always dreamed of being an Aggie, and, second, and perhaps more importantly, I chose to come to College Station because of the interactions that I had as an undergraduate with Dr. Dan Posey.

Dr. Posey started working at West Texas A&M my junior year as a liaison for a new initiative between the Texas A&M CVM and West Texas A&M. Since then, he has become a tremendous mentor, and I am lucky to call him a friend. It was through his personality and actions that I was given a glimpse of the wonderful culture of the CVM community. In fact, without his assistance and Merck Animal Health’s sponsorship, I would not have secured my internship opportunity.

As an aspiring future swine practitioner, the practical experience I gleaned and the lifelong friends I made were priceless. Leading up to the internship, several food animal veterinarians advised me of the importance of learning both the medical and the production sides of the swine business. Unfortunately, a common problem seen among new graduates entering into production medicine is that they have minimal understanding of the day-to-day activities necessary to run the facilities where they end up working. This internship allowed me to bridge that gap in my knowledge and become familiar with both production medicine and the day-to-day operations of the farm.

One of the things that excited me about this internship was the opportunity to travel to a part of the country I had never experienced. During my time on the East Coast, I learned about the local culture and networked with professionals in the swine industry. I ended up discovering that the production community is a tight-knit family. Because of this I was able to network professionally, as well as build personal relationships that I will have for the rest of my life.

During my time working at the farms, I observed what the veterinarians did for the company. To my surprise, their responsibilities were much different than in a practice setting. There are many prevention and control measures that veterinarians are responsible for following, and I enjoyed learning about them all. To say the least, the scale of the operation was unlike anything I had ever seen growing up in rural Texas.

I was raised in a small farming community in the Texas Panhandle called Olton. My family grew crops and raised cattle. Starting at a young age, I participated in activities ranging from shooting sports to animal science through the 4-H and FFA. It was during this time I found myself drawn to caring for the livestock. I began raising pigs and cattle for show at the local, county, and state fairs. Soon after, I was introduced to veterinary medicine and I was hooked; I had found my calling. When it came time to start my college education, I decided to stay close to home and, most importantly, my pigs.

Veterinary medicine is an exciting profession that spans from deep academic books to sweaty barns. It is this stark contrast that I love. And I believe that if you are going to be a food animal veterinarian, you have to learn by getting your hands dirty. This internship allowed me to do just that; it gave me a clear view of both the veterinary medicine and the production aspects of the swine industry. Once I graduate, I hope to be able to give back to the community that has given so much to me.

I am incredibly grateful for the initiative between the Texas A&M CVM and West Texas A&M. I believe it is headed down the right path, and I am very proud to be a part of it. The placement of Drs. Posey and Dee Griffin at West Texas A&M was a tremendous asset to my peers and me. Their mentorship and guidance in helping us transition to the CVM has been priceless. I know that this foundation is only the beginning of a strong partnership between Texas A&M and the rural communities we serve. Gig‘em Aggies!