provide graduates with sufficient entry-level competence to practice modern health and production management in herds of food-producing animals.
Large producers who dominate the livestock industries seek veterinarians who are either exclusively or predominantly committed to food-animal practice. Implicit in this is the need for food-animal veterinarians who understand production systems, can read farm records, and can use them to make decisions aimed at increasing herd health, productivity, and the overall profitability of the farming operation. It is these objective services that farmers seek and for which they are willing to pay. Veterinary practitioners also need to know how to charge for their consultative services. Many either don’t know how to charge or don’t like to charge for consulting and would rather bill for primary care or pregnancy exams instead.
In veterinary academe, some faculty members recognize that food-animal curricula must fundamentally change, but the present state-based infrastructure of veterinary education and declining budgets make change difficult. To succeed will require veterinary schools and colleges to share resources and work together to create on-line courses in production medicine and centers of educational excellence that can efficiently provide comprehensive, high-quality veterinary education for the nation. As a start, an accepted definition of a herd health management program should be developed so the goals of the profession are delineated.
Food-animal veterinary medicine is now specialized by food-animal species and focused expertise in the nutrition, reproduction, genetics, housing, economics, risk management, etc. of the relevant species. Authorities in each of these areas are present in veterinary schools and industry across the country and no one school can afford to provide positions in all of the areas. Creation of virtual “centers of emphasis” in the theoretical aspects of poultry, dairy, beef, and swine medicine could be created making use of recognized experts in academe, food-animal practice, the livestock industry, and the pharmaceutical industry and others to provide a portfolio of essential on-line courses in food systems. The courses should be easily available to veterinary students in the United States and internationally.
The benefits of consortia in food-animal veterinary medicine have been reviewed by Miller and Prasse (2006). Troutt and Osburn (2008) proposed the creation of regional centers in veterinary education for the dairy industry. In their model, senior students from cooperating veterinary schools would spend part of, or their entire fourth year at an established regional center. Two-year residency programs would be included in the center program. The University of California at Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center at Tulare, California, the Iowa State Swine Medicine Education Center partnered with the Audubon Manning Veterinary Clinic, and the recent USDA grant to create a National Center of Excellence in Dairy Production Medical Education for Veterinary Students provide encouraging examples. These initiatives could prepare veterinary graduates to fully and successfully participate in the dynamically changing food-animal industries of this country and beyond.