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University of Minnesota-Crookston and VetFAST program address 'global shortage' of large animal veterinarians

The pre-veterinary program at UMC is part of the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Food Animal Scholars or VetFAST program, which students can apply for while attending the university in Crookston.

A woman  with a stethoscope around her neck and wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and green jacket, stands in a veterinary clinic's animal barn.
Dr. Samantha Zuck-Roscoe, a veterinarian at the Watford City Veterinary Center in North Dakota, graduated from the pre-veterinary program at University of Minnesota Crookston. Photo taken May 24, 2022.
Jaryn Homiston / Agweek
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Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing series on veterinary care in the region.

WATFORD CITY, North Dakota — Dr. Samantha Zuck-Roscoe was a preschooler when she decided to be a veterinarian. Thirteen years later when she learned at a high school career fair what the University of Minnesota Crookston had to offer, Zuck-Roscoe knew it was where she wanted to take her first step on the path to becoming an animal doctor.

“Everything they said kind of spoke to me, and then my mom and I actually went and toured there, and I knew when I left there, that’s where I wanted to go,” Zuck-Roscoe said. “The small class sizes and the hands-on experience were what sold me, and it was like a family."

The pre-veterinary program at UMC is part of the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Food Animal Scholars or VetFAST program, which students can apply for while attending the university in Crookston.

The University of Minnesota adopted the program to address the nationwide shortage of food animal veterinarians. There is a significant shortage of veterinarians in rural areas where clinics have been unable to fill vacant positions.

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“It’s not just national. It’s a global shortage,” said Dr. Bruce Petersen, founder of VetExperts, which owns Watford City Veterinary Center where Zuck-Roscoe practices and Butte (Montana) Veterinary Center.

Reasons that it is difficult to recruit veterinarians to rural areas, especially, include potential to experience high stress levels, the disinterest in working in rural areas and the physical challenges of working with large animals, veterinarians say.

A large building with a sign reading "Watford City Veterinary Center" has numerous vehicles parked in front of it.
Dr. Bruce Petersen, founder of VetExperts, which owns Watford City Veterinary Center in North Dakota, says there is a global shortage of large animal veterinarians.
Jaryn Homiston / Agweek

“There are a lot of hypothesis and theories, but the bottom line is, we’re short on vets,” Petersen said.

Benefits for students who enroll in the VetFAST program include completion of their bachelors of science and doctor of veterinary medicine in seven years instead of eight, mentorships with DVM faculty and other DVM students and summer veterinary and industry work opportunities.

Zuck-Roscoe recalls how her involvement in extracurricular activities, including animal science and honor society organizations while she was in the pre-vterinary program at UMC helped prepare her for a career in a mixed animal practice.

“I did a little bit of everything,'' Zuck-Roscoe said. “I learned to manage multiple things well which I use daily when managing multiple cases,” she said.

That sums up her life as a veterinarian at Watford Veterinary Center.

“It’s something different every day — you never know what you’re going to see, a large animal, or a small animal. You can go from a calving to a bloated cow to a laceration to a goat, all in the same day,“ Zuck-Roscoe said.

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Eligibility requirements for students applying to the U of M VetFAST program include enrollment in the animal science program at UMC, the animal science program at U of M in the Twin Cities or the biology program at University of Minnesota Morris and experience working with large and small food animal ruminants.

A woman wearing a gold blouse and black jacket.
Leslie Lekatz is a University of Minnesota Crookston Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources assistant professor.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Crookston

Students can apply for the VetFAST program as early as completion of two semesters in the animal science program and, if they are accepted, the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine will hold a seat for students until they complete their requirements at UMC, said Leslie Lekatz, UMC Agriculture and Natural Resources Department assistant professor of animal science.

“Since 2019, when I started tracking data, the first-year acceptance rate of our graduates who apply to vet school averages 65%,” Lekatz said.

The national average acceptance rate is 11%.

“Our acceptance rate if you include second-applications jumps to 85%,” Lekatz said.

The University of Minnesota’s VetFAST program has an acceptance rate, overall, of 60%, she said. Some of the students choose to go to veterinary school at U of M, and others, like Zuck-Roscoe, who earned her DVM degree at Washington State University, go elsewhere after graduating from UMC.

University of Minnesota Crookston instituted the VetFAST program to ensure that students who wanted to attend veterinary college had the prerequisites, such as chemistry classes, that they needed, said Terrill Bradford, UMC Agriculture and Natural Resources Department instructor.

A woman wearing a white shirt and maroon vest.
Terrill Bradford is a University of Minnesota Agriculture and Natural Resources Department instructor.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Crookston

The VetFAST program is part of the U of M Veterinary College, but most of the classes that UMC students in the program take also are requirements at other veterinary colleges, Bradford said.

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The same impression of UMC’s pre-veterinary program that Zuck-Roscoe got from her visit to UMC — its small class sizes and hands-on experience — is what draws other students to attend college there after they graduate from high school, Bradford said.

The small UMC classes foster a feeling of family, giving students and teachers a chance to get to know one another. Unlike larger universities where students might have a different instructor for every course they take, UMC students have the same professor for several, Bradford said.

“We get to know them really well,” she said. That’s an advantage when students are applying for veterinary college because when the professors write letters of recommendation, they can give a well-rounded picture of the students’ strengths.

Meanwhile, the hands-on work opportunities of Zuck-Roscoe and other UMC students who have a pre-vet emphasis aren't limited to laboratory experiments.

“In everything that we do to our animals, any kind of vaccination or processing that is required for normal production animals, we are going to do that in a class.

‘All the lambing and the kidding. All the calving in the fall….. We try to include them in every aspect of production so they get the big picture of that,“ Bradford said. “With the horses, upkeep and care of feet and vaccinations and other things we do for them.”

A woman with a stethoscope around her neck stands in a veterinary clinic. The word "surgery" is over a door in the background.
Dr. Samantha Zuck-Roscoe appreciated the hands-on approach University of Minnesota Crookston took in its pre-vet program. Zuck-Roscoe now is a veterinarian at Watford City Veterinary Center in North Dakota.
Jaryn Homiston / Agweek

The sheep and swine class is one that Zuck-Roscoe remembers well; besides taking the class as a freshman, she was Bradford’s teaching assistant for the next three years.

Through helping teach the class, students enhance their own knowledge, she said. Meanwhile, teaching also allows for students in upper-level classes to mentor underclassmen.

Pre-veterinary students at UMC also are encouraged to participate in high school tours of UMC and be part of the college and the Crookston community. Those experiences are important because working as a veterinarian requires not only a good bedside manner with animal patients, but also with their human owners.

Students who graduate from UMC’s pre-vet program have both sets of skills, Bradford said.

“These kids are awesome people,” she said.

A woman wearing a black shirt stands in front of a wall with a horse picture.
Maggie Brown, a spring 2022 University of Minnesota Crookston pre-veterinary program graduate, will start college at University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in St. Paul in the fall of 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Maggie Brown, a spring 2022 UMC graduate in animal science with a pre-veterinary emphasis, learned about the VetFAST program at UMC when she was a Bemidji (Minnesota) High School senior, and applied for it after her freshman year of college, and was accepted into the program.

This fall Brown will start at U of M College of Veterinary Medicine where she plans to specialize in large animals.

"I’ve always loved science and animals. A career that combined both, veterinary science, made sense," Brown said.

Brown is confident that UMC, which offered her the opportunity to learn about and work with large animals, something she hadn’t done before, prepared her well for veterinary college.

“We learned a lot about how to properly handle a bunch of animals — cows, horses, swine, sheep, goats,” Brown said.

Although the UMC pre-vet program focuses on livestock, Bradford also teaches an animal companion class in which students get an overview of care for dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other pets.

“What to feed, when to feed, reproduction of animals, handling,” Bradford said. She takes students in the companion animals class on field trips and also hosts a couple of owners who bring their pets to the UMC campus.

Brown’s classmate, 2022 UMC graduate, McKenna Anderson, carried on a family tradition when she chose to enroll at UMC after she graduated from high school in Becker, Minnesota. Her grandfather attended the Northwest School of Agriculture on what is now the UMC campus, her mom and uncle earned associates degrees from UMC when it was a two-year technical college and her brother graduated from UMC in 2012.

A woman wearing a maroon University of Minnesota sweatshirt stands in front of a wall with a horse on it.
University of Minnesota Crookston pre-veterinary program 2022 graduate McKenna Anderson will start veterinary college at South Dakota State University in Brookings in fall 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Over the past four years, UMC has earned respect from Anderson on its own merits.

“I loved that it was small, I loved that we did hands-on — that was very geared towards our learning,” she said. “I loved my teachers.”

Anderson will start veterinary college at South Dakota State University in Brookings this fall. She plans to work in a large animal practice after graduation from SDSU.

Besides her UMC animal science classes, where she had opportunities that included drawing blood from horses and learning how to stain slides, Anderson is grateful that she could take management classes and to participate in UMC clubs, such as Agarama, which annually holds a January event to give students competing in livestock showmanship and agronomy contests.

As she prepares to take her next step to become a veterinarian, Anderson believes her choice to attend UMC and pursue a pre-veterinary emphasis there as the right one.

“I would recommend this school all day long,” Anderson said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTUREAGRICULTURE EDUCATIONLIVESTOCK
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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