For veterinary students such as Kailey McDougald and Clare Panning, weekends hold a high value as a time for catching up on studies, socializing or just sleeping in for an hour or two. But on a sunny spring weekend, with plenty of other options, McDougald and Panning joined about 200 other veterinary students gaining first-hand experience in food-animal medicine on the Ohio State University (OSU) campus.

For five years, OSU has hosted an annual Food Animal Medicine Student Symposium, providing a unique learning experience for vet students from around the country. Each year, student members of OSU’s Food Animal Medicine Club plan, organize and host the event, with assistance from the club’s faculty advisor, Eric Gordon, DVM. The team brought in veterinarians from around the country, from private practice, academia and industry, to lead sessions and teach wetlabs.

Clare Panning, a fourth-year student at OSU and co-vice president of the Food Animal Club, served as chair of the wetlab committee. She, along with fourth-year student Jessica Higgans and a committee of students, began planning the symposium, gathering supplies, animals, and communicating with veterinarians in September. “I don't have a concrete number of hours we spent preparing,” she says, “but from January through April it seemed like we worked on symposium preparations all the time.”

Panning has been involved in the school’s Food Animal Club since her first year of veterinary school, and says it is one of the most involved organizations on campus. “I ran for vice-president of the club and chose to get involved with the symposium to give back to students at the school so they could have a similarly great food animal experience,” she says. She notes that the club’s other vice president, Brianna Wiser, along with other club officers and committee chairs, spent long hours planning and organizing every component of the event.

McDougald, a third-year student at the University of Florida, plans to enter a dairy practice upon graduation. She and three other UF students made the trip to Ohio to engage in hands-on activities not always available through their typical coursework. The UF Food Animal Club helped fund their trip.

Industry sponsors help defray expenses for the event, and Zoetis has served as primary sponsor for several years. Additional sponsors this year included Cargill, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), American Dairy Association, Ohio Beef Council, Elanco, BVS, OSU Alumni, Multimin and Jaguar Animal Health.

By students, for students

Gordon has served on the OSU veterinary faculty for 10 years and as a co-advisor for the Food Animal Medicine Club for most of that time. The club, he says, acts as the local AABP chapter, but also involves students who specialize in non-bovine livestock such as hogs or poultry. A committee of around 20 students conduct virtually all the planning, including speakers, venues, meals and entertainment, Gordon says. The student team begins planning the next year’s event almost immediately after one is finished, and invest considerable time on planning throughout the year.

The primary goals of the event include providing a high-quality educational experience while exposing students from across the United States to a variety of topics and procedures within food-animal medicine, hopefully encouraging them to pursue careers in food-animal practice. Many of the participating students already plan to specialize in food animals, but some others attend to learn more about those practice options as they consider career plans.

Gordon says Zoetis signed on as principle sponsor for the first symposium and has continued that sponsorship, which allows the university to offer the symposium free of charge to students, who just pay their travel and lodging.

The first year, the group set a goal of 150 students, and attendance totaled around 140. Since then, they have set a limit of 200 participants and reached that number most years, with participating students generally representing 11 to 15 different veterinary schools. Gordon says the team plans to continue hosting the annual symposium as long as interest remains strong.

The team brings in accomplished, expert veterinarians, from the OSU faculty and around the country, to oversee wetlabs and lead presentations.

Variety of experiences

The schedule is structured such that each student can participate in one of the on-farm labs and one or two of the shorter on-campus wetlabs, along with presentations in the general sessions.

Those general sessions featured a diverse list of presentations from experienced veterinarians outlining issues likely to affect students as they enter the veterinary workforce. 

Zoetis Group Director of US Cattle Veterinary Operations Roger Saltman, DVM, MBA, outlined trends in the veterinary business for participating students. Saltman serves on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Economics Strategy Committee, which conducts ongoing research on trends in supply and demand for veterinary services. He stressed that while today’s veterinary students face increasing competition, substantial debt and changing role in the industry, the employment outlook remains positive for those pursuing large-animal practice.

Gary Oetzel, DVM, MS, from the University of Wisconsin, provided students with insights on dairy production systems around the world. He offered examples of how U.S. dairies could learn from their international counterparts and provided students with a glimpse of what it might be like to practice in other countries.

Colorado State University’s Tim Holt, DVM, presented on bovine pulmonary hypertension (BPH), also known as brisket disease or “high altitude disease” in cattle. With most of the participating students from Eastern or Midwestern locations, Holt quickly noted that the heritable disease, which can cause calf death loss of 20 percent or greater, increasingly occurs in cattle at elevations as low as 3,000 feet above sea level. Also, bulls raised in Ohio or other Midwestern states often ship to ranches at higher elevations and feeder cattle from the region could easily find themselves in feedyards at 4,000 or 5,000 feet of elevation.

During the final general session, Fred Gingrich, an Ohio-based dairy practitioner and current AABP president, outlined how AABP can aid in the success of young veterinarians. Using examples from his own career, Gingrich outlined how AABP provides continuing education, networking and communication opportunities for veterinarians.

A series of interactive workshops covered topics ranging from vitamins and minerals to calf scours, the veterinary feed directive and planning a career as a veterinary scientist.

Hands-on wetlabs

Holt also led an on-farm practical session in which students practiced pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) tests on several Holstein steers. The test involves inserting a large-diameter needle into the animal’s jugular vein, and feeding a catheter back through the right atrium and right ventricle into the pulmonary artery. A pressure transducer attached to the catheter measures the pulmonary arterial pressure.

After Holt demonstrated, the students each took turns inserting the needle and catheter and taking pressure readings. Among other practical tips, Holt showed students that, while holding the animal’s head to the side, pulling up on its ear helps expose the jugular vein.

During the same session, Holt also showed students how to use the “Whisper” electronic stethoscope system to objectively evaluate cattle for respiratory disease. Each of the participating students had an opportunity to execute a PAP test and to evaluate cattle using the Whisper system.

Another off-site workshop featured Greg Edwards, DVM, Lowell Midila, MS, VMD, and Oetzel, conducting a comprehensive tour or a local dairy, involving students in a detailed farm analysis and advising them on what to look for, what to measure and how to identify opportunities for improvement on client dairies. 

In addition to the off-site PAP testing and dairy farm analysis, wetlabs available to participating students included dystocia and fetotomy techniques, cosmetic dehorning, ruminant enucleation, necropsy techniques, breeding soundness exams, hoof trimming, euthanasia, dairy cattle nutrition, large-animal suturing techniques, teat and udder surgery and milk systems analysis.

McDougald says she was particularly impressed with the mobile milking unit and associated wetlab, which helped students learn the function, monitoring and maintenance of modern milking equipment.

Studying in near-sea-level Florida, McDougald says she’d had little exposure to the issue of BPH. Knowing her career could take her to Western dairies where the condition is more prevalent in dairy and beef herds, she attended sessions with Holt, learning diagnosis and management considerations for minimizing losses from BPH.

McDougald says she was impressed by the number of students who gave up their weekend and invested time and money to attend the symposium. They all seemed to enjoy the event, learned new skills and had valuable opportunities to network with peers and established veterinarians. “We really appreciate the sponsors and the Ohio State students who began planning the event during the first week of the school year,” she says.

“I think we all learned something different about ourselves through planning this event,” Panning adds. “I learned a great deal about my strengths as well as ways to improve as a leader.”


Student feedback

Participating students expressed their enthusiasm for the learning opportunities the symposium provided, and their comments included:

·         “The international dairy talk was so different and exciting to hear about. That was my favorite talk! I loved seeing how dairies are being operated all over the world.”

·         “I thought the information Dr. Saltman presented was encouraging, and while we don't always like talking about job availability, it is a very important topic.”

·         “Dr. Saltman's talk freaked me out a bit. It made me realize how much debt I am going to have. Other than that, it was great!”

·         “I hope to hear Dr. Holt speak again...on anything. Truly enjoyed his talk, especially on a topic that is not covered in our Vet School's curriculum.”

·         “It was very interesting to learn about High Altitude Disease as we don't see that much in our area. It was also interesting that there is a genetic component to the disease and that we can make changes in our area that can help to decrease the occurrence of disease in animals that we send to high altitude areas.”

·         “I wish there was time for all of them! I loved the alternative therapy lecture with Dr. Holt. Really interesting and cool.”

·         “I have never learned so much in one day. I'm so thankful for the hard work everyone put into these wet labs. We come every year and we are never disappointed! Amazing job!”

·         “Dr. Thompson's mobile (milking) setup was impressive and I learned a lot that I could now talk to producers about their milking systems.”