Educating the next generation
The shortage of veterinarians is felt across America. Way out in West Texas, ranchers and livestock producers feel that impact more than most, because accessibility to a veterinarian in the Big Bend region is limited. Most graduates are not looking to start a career as a veterinarian in a rural community practicing large animal medicine and having to be away from family and friends.
Serving the underserved
The Veterinary Science Certificate Program, VSCP, offered in Texas by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, is working to address this issue at its source by providing opportunity and capacity building for youth living in these areas. Historically, because of geographic location, students in rural America typically do not get the same opportunity as their urban counterparts. Programs, financial resources and education seem to be all around the big cities, big schools and populated areas. So the question becomes: How do we provide opportunity to those living in rural areas?
Real life solution
Currently, two high school students at Valentine Independent School District are among those working toward their certification to become a veterinary assistant while attending high school. Debbie Engle, VISD superintendent, has assisted in making this happen. Engle runs her district and school on a shoestring budget and does not have the resources or teaching staff onsite to offer these student opportunities. Thinking outside the box and networking, she was able to find a way through the Veterinary Science Certificate Program.
The ultimate goal of current rural veterinary incentive programs is to help graduate veterinarians once they have moved to a rural community for work. This does not always work out as planned since many loan repayment recipients move away from those rural areas after the loan repayment program has concluded.
The goal of the Texas A&M AgriLife Veterinary Science Program is to provide opportunities, otherwise not available to youth, in the community in which they are raised with the hope those students will return home to practice.
These two students will hopefully be inclined to pursue a career in veterinary science and eventually return back to the Big Bend area to serve the local community of ranchers and livestock producers. Jordan Miller, a junior veterinary science major, said, “I love veterinary medicine, and I am so glad to be given this opportunity. Ideally, I will join an existing practice in this area or open my own practice back here when I graduate.”
Mother and son veterinarians, Mary Dodson, DVM, and Zachary Dodson, DVM, at Alpine Small Animal Practice and Large Animal Services in Alpine, have taken on the supervision role to assist these students in completing their clinical hours. The students travel 70 miles one way to work toward their required 300 hands-on clinical hours. On school days, they have access to the VSCP curriculum through distance education.
Numerous events throughout the year and across the state are planned this year. Youth interested in veterinary or animal science should contact Nikki Boutwell, VSCP coordinator, for more information.
– by Nikki Boutwell, Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal Science and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Veterinary Science Certificate Program coordinator, Bryan-College Station