Iowa State's Efforts of Teaching Students Food Animal Medicine
ACVIM 2008
Bruce Leuschen, DVM
Ames, IA, USA


Recent trends project a shortage of food animal veterinarians in the near term with exacerbated effects in the long term for the United States.1,2 This is especially true for agricultural states like Iowa. Academic veterinary institutions have an obligation to investigate, identify, and address this shortage so as to assure the continued production of safe U.S. food supply. Surveys of second and fourth year veterinary students reveal that students agree that course experiences are influential in changing career ambitions.3 The impact of changing student demographics is a need for experiences that introduce urban students to modern food production systems and practice opportunities.4 In response to these identified needs, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine has developed and implemented three unique programs in dairy, beef, and swine medicine. The PIKE (Production Immersive Knowledge Experience) programs are 10 week residential programs that expose students to all facets of the dairy, beef, and pork food chains and the veterinary opportunities therein. D-PIKE (Dairy) and SPIKE (Swine) were initiated in the summer of 2006 and this summer will be on the third year. B-PIKE (Beef) will have the inaugural year in the summer of 2008. The PIKE programs are innovative collaborations between four stakeholder groups in food supply veterinary medicine: the producers and farmers, private veterinary practitioners, the allied corporate industries, and the veterinary college. Developed and implemented in the spring and summer of 2006, these programs met immediately with strong interest and student success. Programs like these are integral in the education and recruitment of future food animal veterinarians.

Program Description

In 2006 the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine partnered with 16 farms, 14 students, five corporations, two veterinary practices, and one cooperative production system to provide two (D-PIKE and SPIKE) unique experiences for future dairy and swine practitioners. These innovative programs where designed to allow students to better understand and acquire production skills in the dairy and swine industries firsthand. Targeted at students recently admitted to the veterinary curriculum, these experiences are expected to additionally position participants to get maximum value from future course work in graduate school and veterinary school. It is expected that the understanding of the food supply chain and the unique skills sets acquired in these cooperative experiences will uniquely position students to compete for the best jobs in swine and dairy production medicine upon graduation.

Students with an expressed interest in mixed animal focused veterinary practice were offered these programs. D-PIKE, B-PIKE, and SPIKE are similarly structured but independent experiences. A total of 32 students have participated in the programs (2006--14 students, 2007--18 students). The D-PIKE program is based in northeast Iowa, SPIKE in southwest Iowa, and B-PIKE in central Nebraska. These locations provide the best logistical environment for daily work on modern farms in each species. Students within each program were housed together to promote interaction of the group and facilitate discussions and comparison of their varied experiences on the farms. Each day the students reported to the farms participating in the programs. Based on farm size and logistics, students were assigned to farms in groups of 1-5 students at a time. Daily schedules reflected the hours of normal farm operations and varied by farm. Weekend participation was voluntary but encouraged given that management of resources and priorities are many times different on weekends than during the work week. Students rotated among the farms at regular intervals so that each student had similar experiences. Farms were selected with the counsel of the cooperating veterinarians based on their willingness to participate and that they represented accepted, albeit varied, examples of modern and conscientious production practices. To focus students on key elements and to promote active investigation versus passive observation, students were required to provide answers to specially formulated questions that assessed specific skills, knowledge and aptitudes (SKAs) for each farm they experienced. Individual student responses were monitored using an internet based course management software system (WebCT). This system records the amount and frequency of time spent reviewing and responding to these SKA questions. Specific questions were developed by referencing existing core competencies identified for veterinary graduates (maintained by Food Supply Veterinary Services, Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Medicine Department, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University) and animal science graduates (provided by instructors in the Animal Science Department, Iowa State University). These questions were designed to focus on basics of production and were not expected to be all inclusive. The open ended format allowed the students to respond at their level of understanding which is expected to generate some insight into the effectiveness of the program over time.


The D-PIKE program is a cooperative effort with Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, the Northeast Iowa Community-Based Dairy Foundation, Postville Veterinary Clinic, and three private farms. The students are paired in groups of two and rotate between the four participating herds and the veterinary clinic. The program starts with the introduction of basic farm and veterinary skills directed toward the care of the individual animal and the herd as a whole. Three days are spent directly with the students at the Dairy Foundation equipping the students with these essential skills so that they are able to participate in the activities on the farms while paired in the rotations. Skills learned at this time include: calf esophageal feeder, stomach tube, injections, animal restraint, flight zone, rectal palpation, sick animal examination, basic artificial insemination, and blood draw. Daily activities that the students participate on the farms include calf feeding, milking the cows, moving the animals to the parlor, grooming stalls, monitoring and caring for the transition cows, caring for the parturient cow chores associated with the heifer raising operation. The students participate in all the summer activities on the farm including forage harvesting and storage, dairy shows and fairs, and feed mixing and delivery to the animals.

In addition to participating in farm activities and investigating farm structure and function, students participated in weekly seminars that covered a wide variety of relevant topics and exposed them to a larger group of future veterinary colleagues. These topics were generally presented in small discussion and lecture format in the evenings and were accompanied by a meal and were open to local veterinarians and area producers. The lecture topics for D-PIKE include: nutrition, cow comfort, reproduction, parturition and neonatal care, milk quality, parlor protocol, embryo transfer, infectious disease, and dairy economics. These seminars are developed and delivered by industry leaders in their respective fields.

Farms represent only part of the complete food supply chain. Experiences designed to introduce the remaining portions of the chain were integrated in the programs. Tours to three dairy processing facilities that produce a variety of dairy products were conducted. A trip to a 100 million gallon ethanol plant that produces dried distillers grains is included to introduce the use of co-products as a feed source for dairy cows. The Hay Expo has been a part of the program when held in NE Iowa (2007). A trip to a local farm that processes and retails its own milk into fluid milk, cheese, and ice cream is a rewarding part of the D-PIKE experience as well as a trip to several other novel dairy farms in the area.

The time spent on the rotation with the veterinary clinic was spent paired with one of the veterinarians in practice vehicle on farm calls. This was a vital part of the experience that provided the students the opportunity to participate in clinical skills and surgical techniques. A variety of on farm and haul in experiences are enjoyed.


In 2004 the students at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine started a club in response to the shortage of veterinarians called V-SMART (Veterinary Student Mixed Animal Recruitment Team). Concerned about the future of their profession, veterinary students formed VSMART to encourage students to become veterinarians and practice in rural areas. VSMART students have given presentations to more than 9,000 Iowans at schools, fairs, community events, and 4-Hclubs. They explain the educational requirements and describe what happens in each year of the four-year veterinary curriculum. Often they partner with local veterinarians, sharing real-life experiences of the rural practitioner. VSMART is seeing the impact of its hard work as the number of students at ISU-CVM interested in food animal and rural practice has increased in the last several years. Recently the AVMA has recognized the club for its efforts and the AABP (American Association of Bovine Practitioners) has helped the club form chapters at other veterinary colleges across the US. District directors of the AABP will take VSMART materials to 20 veterinary schools and encourage them to form chapters. V-SMART is now making an impact across the United States.


1.  Iowa Survey 2004 IVMA Proceedings;

2.  Prince JB et al. Future demand, probable shortages, and strategies for creating a better future in food supply veterinary medicine.2006 J Am Vet Med Assoc ;229:57-69;

3.  Andrus D, et al. Job satisfaction, changes in occupational area, and commitment to a career in food supply veterinary medicine 2006 1884-1893 Vet Med Today: Food Supply Veterinary Medicine JAVMA, 228:12;

4.  Tyler J, et al. Assessing veterinary medical education with regard to the attraction, admission, and education of students interested in food supply veterinary medicine and retention of student interest in a career in the food supply sector Views: Food Supply Veterinary Medicine. 2006, JAVMA, 229:6;


Speaker Information
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Bruce Leuschen, DVM
Iowa State University
Ames, IA

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