VetFAST: Early enrollment program benefits graduates and society
In today’s economy, jobs can be hard to come by for college graduates, but graduates of the food-animal track at the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) are finding that high-paying jobs are plentiful.
For graduates like Dan Hagman, Carissa Schloesser, and Laura Schulz, who knew early that they wanted to pursue a career in food animal medicine, the CVM offers an early-decision program, the Veterinary Food Animal Scholars Track, or VetFAST. The program holds slots open for eligible undergraduate students who commit early to food- animal medicine, assuming they meet the rigorous academic standards. It also gives them the option of completing their undergraduate work in three years instead of four.
“VetFAST is a really unique and effective strategy to recruit and admit students committed to food-animal practice,” says Dr. Laura Molgaard, associate dean for academic and student affairs. “By identifying high-ability students very early, we can mentor them and retain them in this important part of our profession.”
Dr. Dan Hagman, a 2008 graduate and one of the first students to complete veterinary school through the VetFAST program, grew up near Lake Mille Lacs and has a passion for working outside with dairy herds. “It is something I absolutely love to do,” Hagman says. “The clients are relaxed. They are my kind of people.”
Hagman works for United Veterinary Services in Bear Creek, Wisconsin. The practice consists of 10 veterinarians serving dairy farms in the 9-county Fox Valley area. His uncle Dr. Brian Moss, a veterinarian specializing in dairy production, was instrumental in Hagman’s career choice.
“In sixth grade, I rode with my uncle and I decided that being a dairy vet is what I wanted to do,” recalls Hagman. After graduating from high school, Hagman enrolled in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) for his pre-veterinary work, with every intention of becoming a dairy vet. What he didn’t know was that the CVM would be launching the VetFAST program, which would secure him a spot and allow him to enroll in veterinary school a full year earlier than his classmates.
Two decades ago, about half of CVM graduates went on to become large-animal practitioners. Since then, the number of graduates who plan to practice in the area of food animal production and/or food safety has fallen dramatically. Only 15 percent of the class of 2009 specialized in food animals. VetFAST’s mission is to help meet the need for food-animal practitioners by encouraging undergrads who are interested in food-animal medicine to commit early to their career choice.
But the path into the program isn’t easy. Program requirements are based on the CFANS honors program. Typical applicants rank in the top 25 percent of their high school graduating class, have a strong interest in food animals, and score 25 or higher on the ACT. Students accepted into the program must also complete their pre-veterinary work while maintaining an overall GPA of at least 3.40.
“These students are honors-level students in their undergraduate programs and are truly the cream of the crop,” says Molgaard.
Another graduate of the class of 2008,
Dr. Laura Schulz, works at one of the state’s largest swine production practices, Swine Vet Center, P.A., in St. Peter, Minnesota.
“It’s a wonderful job. I really enjoy working with the producers, the animals, other vets, and networking with others in the industry,” says Schulz. “I appreciate the variety. I spend my days traveling, visiting with clients, working with pigs, and, of course, completing necessary paperwork. I like to be out and about instead of confined to a cubicle — my truck is my office.”
Schulz, too, grew up in rural Minnesota in the small farming community of Lafayette. At one time, Schulz was interested in a career in physical therapy, but after her first undergraduate course in animal science she decided she couldn’t leave livestock behind. “I love it too much,” she says.
So when she heard about the VetFAST program, she was ready to commit early.
“It sounded like a good option because I knew what I wanted to do,” she says. “It saved me some time and opened doors to scholarships.” Like Hagman, Schulz received at least one scholarship for each of her four years of veterinary school. In spring 2009, the CVM awarded a total of $40,500 to veterinary students specializing in food animals.
Dr. Carissa Schloesser, a graduate of the class of 2009, began working with the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic in June. The clinic specializes in swine and employs 12 full-time veterinarians, including Schloesser. Originally from the St. Peter area, Schloesser heard about the VetFAST program from family friend Mike Mohr, a food animal veterinarian practicing in North Carolina.
“I always thought I wanted to be a veterinarian,” says Schloesser. “I grew up around food animals. I liked the sciences. My love for animals plus my interest in sciences was a good combination.”
Also a recipient of scholarships, Schloesser saved valuable time and money by applying to the VetFAST program.
“It’s a good program for students who already know that they want to work in food-animal medicine,” she says. “It helps you focus during vet school.”
The first VetFAST graduates, Hagman, Schloesser, and Schulz, and are on the front lines of keeping the food system safe and preventing zoonotic diseases such as novel H1N1 viruses and bovine tuberculosis from spreading to humans.
“We are out there every day looking at our food supply,” says Schulz. “We keep the food supply safe. It’s a big responsibility.”
For more information about VetFAST, call 612-624-4747, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.cvm.umn.edu/education/prospective/VetFAST.