Innovative Methods of Preparing Future Veterinarians for Food Animal Agriculture
ACVIM 2008
R. Daniel Posey, DVM, DABVP (Beef); Jason Osterstock, DVM, PhD; Wesley Bissett, DVM, PhD; Charles Farnsworth, PhD
College Station, TX, USA


The 21st Century has challenged the animal agriculture industry remarkably in just a few years. Emerging infectious diseases, bioterrorism, conservation of natural resources, changes in global trade, and increased concern by the American consumer about food safety, antibiotic resistance, and animal welfare have combined to mandate changes in how the agriculture industry approaches food production. With these concerns there is increased demand for individuals with expertise and training in these fields. Veterinary medical colleges seek to train professionals skilled in the animal sciences, medicine, surgery, and epidemiology. The volatility and evolution of food animal agriculture demands that we, as veterinary profession educators, evolve and revise our teaching methods and approaches in the education of the contemporary veterinarian to meet the expectations of our society.

We have developed a unique clinical training rotation for senior students to enhance exposure to these diverse concerns. This rotation is designed to expand the traditional clinical training period of the veterinary student to include training and exposure to contemporary issues in animal agriculture. A series of traditional classroom instruction, modern agriculture field trips and clinical simulations have been utilized to promote contemporary approaches to outbreak investigation, management of traditional and alternative agriculture, examination of the animal--environment interaction, and problem solving. We initiated a collaborative effort to accomplish these goals from regulatory agencies, clinical and research faculty in veterinary medicine and environmental health, as well as private industries. Additionally, we evaluated students' performance to examine how these exposures impact problem solving skills, student awareness, and student perspective on contemporary issues facing the animal agriculture industries.

Program Description

The professional curriculum in veterinary medicine seeks to prepare students for careers related to the prevention, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of conditions related to animal health. A vital part of this preparation is the 4th year of the curriculum when students have the opportunity to apply the art and science of veterinary medicine in a real-world context through a series of two-week rotations while working under the direct supervision of licensed veterinarians. Contemporary animal agriculture and food production has evolved such that new demands are placed upon those invested in these industries. The availability of a safe and cost effective food supply is crucial to the stability and viability of our socio-economic environment. Society demands that veterinarian be trained to address, facilitate, and monitor these issues. The purpose of this rotation is to increase 4th year veterinary student exposure, understanding, and knowledge of contemporary animal agricultural issues.

We have found that experiential teaching is an important approach in adult learning. This two week rotation was designed to provide an experience in which veterinary students engage and address these issues through a variety of formats ranging from "hands on" veterinary services to interactive "on-sight" experience to simulated veterinary interaction/training to "real life" regulatory network experience. We realize that some of these rotational issues are addressed in the curriculum elsewhere, but through our design it allows the students to use this knowledge base in a clinical environment which strengthens their problem solving skills

This opportunity is offered once yearly during the summer months to enhance food animal instruction in our program. We instruct 5 to 6 students per rotation. The scheduling of events and activities were flexible depending on the client's needs, students' interest and faculty member's expertise involved in training.

There are six areas of focus that the student will be exposed to through this rotation:


As the security of our agricultural resources has gained increased scrutiny and regulation, so has the responsibility of the veterinarian. To address these concerns and expanded duties, we used a simulated outbreak investigation to help students develop skills in outbreak investigation, disease pattern recognition, regulatory medicine, and media support. We facilitated this simulation through collaborative efforts with state and national regulatory agencies in agriculture, veterinary medicine, and homeland security.

Alternative Food Production

Alternative species agriculture and novel production systems are becoming more common in the US and Texas specifically. These industries are challenged by the relative lack of veterinarians trained to meet their needs. This segment of the rotation will be designed to explore aquaculture as an alternative production system. Students will be able to apply skills in epidemiology, records analysis, preventive medicine, and client service through clinical consultation in these unique agricultural production systems.

Food Safety

We believe that supplying safe food with a high degree of consumer confidence is the core motivation for the contemporary production agriculturalist. This part of the rotation exposes students to alternative careers in regulatory medicine, allow them to evaluate production systems from the perspective of their endpoint (i.e., Food), develop an understanding of hazard analysis and critical control points, and explore alternative technologies that facilitate the delivery of a safe product. We visited a variety of animal processing facilities and feedlots to bring the understanding of the collaboration needed to protect the food supply.

Environmental Health

An industrialized nation with urbanization of traditional agricultural settings must have veterinarians prepared to address the animal--environment interaction. Resource management, environmental contaminants, pest management, and waste management are all affected by contemporary animal agriculture and consolidation of the livestock enterprise. Existing clientele` and expanded clinical services will provide an opportunity for students to gain experience addressing these issues and managing agricultural systems appropriately. We integrated faculty with expertise in epidemiology, clinical toxicology, environmental health, natural resources, and clinical veterinary medicine to create an Environmental Health Team that will incorporate student learning into their investigations, monitoring, and research.

Regulatory Medicine

Regulatory medicine is entwined in all of those topics previously listed. Collaborative efforts with state, local, and national agencies will increase exposure of veterinary students to alternative careers, industry concerns, and the role of the food animal veterinarian in this field.

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare is a core concern of all animal agriculturalists as it affects production, profitability, and consumer perspective. Welfare assessments are an important aspect in contemporary veterinary services. We developed a welfare assessment method for feedlots.

Outbreak Simulation

The "capstone" of the course was a full day simulation of a foreign animal disease outbreak. The specific outbreak simulation varied for each year of the rotation to avoid potential cues that may have been shared between consecutive classes of veterinary students and could bias results. In the Clinical Year (CY) 2005, the first scenario was a foot and mouth disease outbreak at an alternative livestock facility that included a cow-calf and stocker operation, a commercial game farm, and a custom hunting facility with feral swine and cervids. The students were presented with three clinical scenarios under the guise of a routine field trip with emphasis on alternative land usage and parasite control. A feral hog harvested by clients of the hunting facility the day before had simulated lesions designed to resemble a vesicular disease created before the animal was presented to the student for post-mortem examination as part of a routine herd health monitoring program. A stocker calf was presented for non-specific lameness and inappetance. Finally, a white-tailed deer from the breeding operation was presented for lameness and ill-thrift.

In CY 2006, the second scenario was a high-pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in a combined swine and poultry feeding facility. During a tour of the facility, students were presented with information regarding mortality in the swine finishing unit, excessive mortality in the poultry feeding unit, and high levels of employee absenteeism.

In CY 2007, the scenario was a babesiosis outbreak in a feedlot associated with importation of cattle from Mexico. Students were presented with a clinical concern by feedlot personnel regarding increased mortality in a group of calves recently imported and were provided simulated routine diagnostic test information consistent with the diagnosis from consulting veterinarian examinations.

To successfully complete each scenario, the students had to identify the pattern of illness among the different species and raise concern regarding the multiple presentations, if not making a definitive diagnosis. State and federal animal health officers were alerted to the scenarios and were prepared to participate in the simulation if the students identified or suspected a foreign animal or reportable disease.


Communication is one of the most important skills that a contemporary food animal veterinarian should attain. In every interaction throughout the rotation we address communication skill building. We encourage student interaction with producers, clients, industry partners, corporate officers and ag workers. The veterinary students are trained in media communication by our public relations director. The students are allowed to apply their new found skill in an individual mock interview. Upon return from the outbreak simulation, the students were individually confronted by a "news reporter" regarding the alleged animal disease outbreak in the area. Interviews were recorded on video for review and evaluation after the scenario was completed.


We have successfully completed 3 years of this rotation. We have had 18 students participate in the Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture and Food Production rotation. We scheduled a 2 hour rotational evaluation session on the last Friday of the two week rotation. The purpose is to allow the students to evaluate the course and teachers. Each student's opinion has had influence on the method of improving the rotation.

The biggest change from CY 2005 to the CY 2006 rotation was the elimination of beef cattle economic analysis and diagnostic testing lectures. The justification was that both subjects were being addressed in new electives in the third year of profession training. The Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture and Food Production has influenced the teaching program beyond its own scope.

The CY 2006 rotation was enhanced through a relationship with a corporate food company. This partnership in education has become a vital part of this rotation. The corporation extended an invitation for the veterinary students to address corporate food production problem. The students worked on this problem the first week with a presentation to the corporate food quality and safety team in the second week.

After review of the CY 2006 rotation and reviewing the students' critic of the CY 2005 and CY 2006 rotation, we came to the conclusion that we need to change the outbreak simulation. One of our goals was to help increase the confidence of these students in the area of disease pattern recognition and investigation and it was apparent that we were failing. The CY 2005 outbreak simulation only one out of seven students identified the disease pattern and made the correct diagnosis. The successful student's skill set was very deep in foreign animal disease training prior to our rotation and was able to utilize this skill to solve the problem. No student in CY 2006 recognized the disease pattern. The conclusion was to offer two outbreak simulations in CY 2007. The first simulation would be early in the first week of the two week rotation and the second outbreak simulation would occur late in the second week. Both of the scenarios would be followed with an "attack" interview from a news reporter. No students correctly identify the outbreak in the first week but all students were successful in identifying the outbreak in the second week. The students self esteem greatly improved through the two simulation training vs. one simulation training.

Communication training is a vital part of this course. We would like to enhance the student's ability not only to be excellent diagnosticians but to be able to communicate findings, conclusions, and resolutions. The communication and media training was enhanced in CY 2007. When we offered two outbreak simulations, early and late in the rotation, we followed each simulation with an on camera interview. In CY 2007, the students had no media training prior to the first interview but were trained prior to the final simulation. There is no doubt that the students on camera presence and confidence were enhanced.


CY 2008 Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture and Food Production rotation is planned for July 21st through August 1st. The same format will be used on this rotation as in the CY 2007 except that we will have two corporate problems that will be addressed. The students will be divided into teams and will work on both projects. This change was to get more student involvement within the problem solving and management. A team of six to seven students working on a food safety issue or designing a processing stream inherently initiates problems. The first is not all the team members are invested in the project. Highly motivated individuals take ownership of this process which allows some individuals to limit their participation. Smaller teams will eliminate this problem or at best pressure the less motivated individuals to participate. This change will also allow us to address more problems that plague our corporate educational partners and will help us to reinforce our symbiotic relationship.

Speaker Information
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R. Posey, DVM, DABVP- Beef
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX

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