Dairy Channel: Who wants to be vet?

So your kid thinks he wants to be a veterinarian. The good news is that, if successful, they should be able to take care of you nicely in your retirement – after they finally pay off all the student loans. The not-so-good news is that it is a long, hard road to get there.

There are three types of veterinarians: large animal, small animal and those who have a foot in both worlds.

About those coveralls … The large animal types are recognizable by the blue coveralls and black rubber knee boots that they wear and the big 4-wheel drive truck with a vet unit in the back. Blue coveralls are an industry standard as they are less likely to show the organic materials that have been splattered on them all day.

Veterinarians, unlike the rest of us, were inspired to pay lots of money to spend eight years of long days and late nights studying the minutiae of cow, pig, horse and little critter innards so they could spend the rest of their professional lives cutting cow, pig, horse and little critter guts up and putting them back together. Their reward is long regular hours and nights and weekends of being “on call.”

Large animal vets do get to work in a variety of settings. Outside on warm, sunny days and stifling, hot days. Inside on cold, freezing, stormy days and outside on cold, freezing, stormy days.

Dog’s physician. The small animal veterinarian is most likely to be found in a nice clinic wearing a spiffy white lab coat that is quickly changed if any organic matter is splattered on it. They usually have more reasonable hours but also have to be “on call” a few nights and weekends.

It is amazing what people will spend on health care for their cats and dogs (have you seen the advertisements for pet health insurance?). This is considered to be the most lucrative branch of veterinary medicine.

The vet in a mixed practice usually prefers large animal practice, but does a few dogs and cats to help pay the bills. Their reward is that they can get bit by dogs and cats and get kicked by horses and cows.

Vet school. All kidding aside, Ohio is fortunate to have a highly respected College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University. As an industry, we reap the benefits of our vet college by having access to top-quality Extension professors and clinical teaching veterinarians, easy access to a teaching hospital and a steady supply of well-trained veterinarians.

You don’t fully appreciate our access to the veterinary hospital until you take an animal to Columbus and see all of the out-of-state license plates on livestock trailers in the parking lot. The hospital treats both the usual and unusual types of animals and illnesses.

This clinic gives students hands-on guided instruction throughout their studies at OSU.

How do animals get to the clinic? The obvious answer is “in a trailer,” but, if a unique or baffling situation occurs at your farm, your vet can make an appointment for your animal to be seen by the nationally ranked faculty at the clinic. While the clinic isn’t free, fees are actually pretty reasonable.

Farms can help. Donations of animals that can help in the teaching process are welcome. You hope that you don’t have anything to donate, but it is a way to bring something positive out of a sad situation.

This happened at our farm in September. A 2-month-old Holstein heifer, yes, out of one of the better cows, had a heart murmur. Husband Steve had diagnosed the problem and the vet confirmed it. The heifer was not doing as well as her fellow calves, was fairly inactive and you could often see her heart beating when she was at rest.

A visit to the clinic (in hopes of a cure for the problem) revealed, via echocardiogram, that she essentially had 3 chambers in her heart rather than 4 and associated problems. As Dr. Hull told one of his students who was listening for the murmur, “If you can’t hear that one, might I suggest a career in a research lab.”

The calf’s prognosis was the pits. Basically, her heart was not reparable and the defect probably highly heritable. Little Whitey stayed at the clinic to be used for teaching both pre- and post-mortem.

Career preparation. So, if your kid wants to be a veterinarian, remind him that one of the best vet schools going is right here at Ohio State. Counsel them to take all the math and science classes that they can in high school. Get them riding with a veterinarian. Prospective students need at least 50 hours of hands-on experience and a reference from a veterinarian just to get an interview.

Plan ahead to take at least one of three graduate school entrance exams, the GRE, VCAT or the MCAT. Share with them the importance of keeping good grades.

OSU’s freshman class of 2000 (they will receive their DVMs in 2004), had an average grade point average (GPA) of 3.61. Put that in the perspective of the typical pre-vet undergraduate curriculum of chemistry, math, biology, anatomy and physiology. Of all the professional schools, only the college of medicine’s class GPA comes close.

Competition. There are 135 “seats” in each year’s veterinary class; 500 applicants were interviewed for those 135 seats. If you actually got to the interview, you were still competing with three other people for a spot in the class.

A couple interesting changes have been developing. The make-up of veterinary classes has shifted from predominantly male 20 years ago to predominantly female today. The 2000 freshman class is made up of 99 females and 31 males. According to the admissions office, this is a trend seen around the country.

Another change is in the role of veterinarians on farms. In the dairy industry, you will get the most out of your veterinarian by using his/her expertise to contribute to management decisions rather than just being the guy that treats animals.

Name for future. Always wanted to be a vet but never got around to it? You can still leave your mark on the vet college.

Construction is under way on a new building to replace Sisson Hall. The new building will house classrooms, laboratories, the vet library, faculty and administrative offices. However, the new building is, as yet, unnamed. Anyone can make a donation and have their name forever emblazoned on the building. For a modest donation of $5 million, that is!

(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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