exas leads the nation in livestock production with 95 percent of the beef market and 70 percent of milk production residing in the Texas Panhandle, according to Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine. To ensure these industries, as well as the livestock, remain healthy and productive, veterinarians are essential.
According to the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine, 40 percent of Texan veterinarians in rural communities are over the age of 60 and are anticipated to leave the profession within the next 10 years.
Ronald Warner, D.V.M., Ph.D., officially retired from Texas Tech in 2013 but continues to serve as the Texas Tech University Health Science Center representative and epidemiologist consultant for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine. Warner says it is critical to prepare more students to provide veterinary services in Texas.
“Most of the veterinary workforce out here in rural Texas, west of I-35, are my age,” Warner said. “They’ve been out there, and they’re getting ready to retire, and the young folks are not coming back out to practice.”
Texas Tech is developing Texas’ first veterinary school in more than 100 years to address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and agricultural communities. The plan is establish the school at the Texas Tech Health Science Center in Amarillo, Texas, according to the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine.
Warner recalls when he first heard about the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine, “I thought we should probably be thinking along those lines there’s been a discussion in and out of the veterinary circle about the lack of large animal practitioners,” Warner said.
Tiffanie Brooks, D.V.M., is the attending veterinarian and director for Animal Care Services on the Texas Tech campus. Brooks also serves as an instructor of veterinary medicine for the Department of Animal and Food Science and agrees Texas Tech can support this need through its new veterinary school.
“I’m seeing local veterinarians who are my friends in rural practices in this area that cannot get associates here,” Brooks said.
How Will Texas Tech Meet the demand?
Guy Loneragan, BVSc, Ph.D., has played an influential role in developing the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine since 2014. At Texas Tech, Loneragan is an epidemiologist and professor of food safety and public health in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences.
“The goal of the vet school is to produce veterinarians to work with small, agricultural and regional centers across Texas,” Loneragan said, “not just West Texas, but all across Texas, East Texas, south and on the border.”
The Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine model is built on the success of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Over the past seven years this program has addressed the critical need of veterinarians in rural areas with 98 percent of graduates staying in the region and 63 percent working in rural private practices.
According to Warner, this new model will not have a centralized teaching hospital. On top of creating curriculum and working on facility plans, a part of his involvement has been finding clinics to occupy fourth-year veterinary students.
Brooks recalls her experience as a fourth-year veterinary student, saying she was three students behind the surgery table and was not getting the hands-on experience to work on specialized types of surgeries or equipment.
“If we’re going to attract the right kind of students, and if we’re going to show them what rural practices are like, and the rewards of being part of a smaller community, we’re going to have to train them in those settings,” Warner said.
Brooks believes future veterinary graduates will learn more about real life and graduate with more confidence through this new model.
One Health Underscores Benefit
According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the “one health” initiative collaborates and communicates all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment worldwide.
With the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine at the TTUHSC campus in Amarillo, the “one health” initiative will be fostered through research and collaboration.
According to Warner, the hope is the significance of “one health” will be ingrained in these veterinary students from the very beginning. Loneragan said the TTUHSC will be tightly connected allowing veterinary and health professional students to mingle and collaborate which will strengthen their education.
I’ve always been told and appreciate that the only real justification for veterinary medicine is to improve human health.
“The Texas Tech family excels at medical education, so we get to collaborate with the health science center and their expertise in medical education,” Loneragan said. “The veterinary school is a natural fit.”
The Texas Panhandle has access to the highest quality education since the TTUHSC in Amarillo serves more than 43,000 patients each year, according to Texas Tech Today.
“I’ve always been told and appreciate that the only real justification for veterinary medicine is to improve human health,” Warner said. “Whether it’s taking care of some dear widow’s poodle, that gives her emotional support, or providing safe economical meals on the table that are healthy.”
Excitement for the Next Generation
For Warner, the opportunity to work on something from the ground up–literally–has been a rewarding experience.
“I say to my wife, this is my capstone,” Warner said.
Loneragan expressed excitement about community support, the future of the school and current high school students who will be taking advantage of the new opportunities. He has also seen “unbridled” enthusiasm from industry stakeholders, rural communities and veterinarians for the School of Veterinary Medicine.
“For me, being a part of the foundation of something that will achieve things I can’t imagine today is really exciting,” Loneragan said.
The future of the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine means so much to current undergraduate students, too. One-hundred and fifty undergraduates classified as pre-vet in the department of animal and food science in the fall of 2018, Loneragan said.
“We have all these students coming to Tech betting their futures on this program, so we better be successful,” Loneragan said.