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“One Health” Solution to Veterinary Shortage

The TTUHSC in Amarillo will be tightly connected allowing veterinary and health professional students to mingle and collaborate which will strengthen their education.

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 Texas Tech Today, the
TTUHSC in Amarillo serves more than
43,000 patients each year.

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.

Expanding for the Industry: CASNR Develops New Department

As the agricultural industry grows, so does the need for industry leaders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for large animal veterinarians is increasing. This is primarily due to the fact that there are fewer practitioners trained to treat large population animals. This shortage is impacting rural areas in Texas which are dependent on the health of their livestock. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University is hoping to meet this industry need with its development of the Department of Veterinary Science that will focus on population-preventative medicine.

“Most of the livestock [operations] in this area are fairly large and there are lots of animals,” Interim Department Chair of the Department of Veterinary Sciences, Michael Ballou Ph.D., said. “We will take more of a population-based approach to answering questions and solving problems.”

After a year of planning, CASNR named Ballou the interim department chair in 2017. A California native, Ballou found his way to Texas Tech in 2007 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2002 and a doctorate in nutritional biology with an emphasis in immunology in 2007, both from the University of California-Davis. His nationally-recognized studies helped earn him the title of CASNR associate dean for research in 2014. His background in research has helped him in the development of the new department.

Aiding the Industry

The newly formed department is a graduate program only. The program will offer master’s and doctorate degrees, both of which are research-based degrees. The department will offer a traditional on-campus program and distance programs. The primary focus of the department will be to train individuals in the population and preventive veterinary medicine. The program plans to attract people interested in pursuing a research career with a primary focus in farm animal medicine.

Ballou said the veterinary sciences department will provide a greater focus on research and outreach efforts in food, animal, equine and wildlife health and well-being, and is intended to meet the educational and research needs of the animal-agricultural industry and the regional veterinary community.

We will take more of a population-based approach to answering questions and solving problems.

“Our focus is mainly going to be looking at the population data and understanding how we can improve the health of feedlot cattle and dairy cattle,” Ballou said. “Our research programs will depend on collecting data from local operations, and they have the data we need.”

Ballou said this program will stand out from the rest as it will focus more on population and preventative medicine in the livestock industry. This is different than clinical medicine, which would suggest diagnosing one sick animal. Population preventive medicine looks at overall livestock production and focuses on the incidence of disease, how many animals are getting sick, and what factors could contribute to that.

The department is going to have a focus on population and preventative medicine in the large livestock industry.

Setting the Standards

Ballou said he and his team want to focus on integrating all aspects of the college’s current departments into the curriculum. He said there will be portions built into the curriculum that will include natural resource management, agricultural communications, agricultural education, agricultural economics, animal and food science, and even public policy. The graduate program will focus on all aspects of the veterinary science industry, not just medicine.

“We are trying to look at ourselves as more of a centralized department, but also relying on and working with other departments in the college,” Ballou said.

Ballou said the online-based program will be particularly appealing to those already who have a doctorate of veterinary medicine and are practicing veterinarians. This program will allow them to continue to work in the industry and also gain new skills that they would not have learned in vet school.

“When you go to vet school, they teach you how to be a veterinarian,” Ballou said. “They teach you how to deal with one animal that comes in that is sick. They don’t teach you how to deal with large population data. So, being an online program, a veterinarian can be in practice and still articulate through this program in two years. It’s going to teach them different skill sets to understand large populations.”

Ballou said those with international veterinary degrees will also be attracted to the online program as they would be able to continue their research while abroad. This program will additionally target people who may have a Ph.D. and are working in the industry, such as animal or livestock health nutrition management, who want to understand how to look at health data as well.

What’s Next

The department is currently in the process of getting the required approval to open its doors to students in the next years. Ballou said he and his team have been working endlessly to get curriculum developed and proper accreditation from the university.

Although the department itself has been approved, Ballou said it will still take a year or two to get everything finalized and placed where it needs to be. As of now, the curriculum for the graduate program can be found on a piece of scratch paper displayed in Ballou’s office in which he and his team have made notes and developed what they think will be the most beneficial to the future students. CASNR does not know when the department will see its first round of graduate students in this department, but Ballou and his team are working to make this program the best it can be to set it apart from other veterinary programs. This department will help shape our industry leaders in new ways.

Not Just Medicine

 It is important to note that the veterinary science department will not be associated with the College of Veterinary Medicine that is currently in the works at Texas Tech through the university systems. Although the future vet school will be a link to the main campus and present resources to CASNR, the two are unrelated. Ballou said the two will essentially be focused on different aspects of the industry.  

Two Major Impacts the ELD Mandate will have on the Agricultural Industry

At an early age, I learned how to drive a truck and trailer hauling livestock. When I received my driver’s license, I started making 12 plus hour trips across the nation to exhibit at national livestock shows. Making long trips became a natural instinct for me, and I know a majority of my livestock enthusiast friends who are also capable of traveling long distance while hauling livestock.

In December 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established the Electronic Logging Device Mandate. According to FMCSA, they want to “create a safer work environment for drivers, and by make it easier and faster to accurately track, manage, and share records of duty status data.” The logging device automatically records driving time and break periods.

Initially, the mandate became a restriction placed on the agricultural industry. While many in the agricultural industry are frustrated by the mandate, complaints have been made to senators and representatives from across the nation. A 90-day extension was given to livestock haulers to comply with the mandate by March 18, 2018. However, an additional extension has been granted and the mandate will officially go into effect on June 18, 2018.

ELD Mandate
Does the ELD Mandate apply to you? ExtensionHorses.org created an infographic answering these questions. Credit: extensionhorses.org.

While I understand policymakers and representatives want to keep drivers safe on the roads, what they do not know is how they are hindering the agricultural industry by issuing the mandate. Here are two major ways the ELD Mandate impacts the agricultural industry.


A huge factor the ELD Mandate restricts is efficiency. According to Drover, in 2015, approximately 400,000 head of cattle are hauled across the nation per day. When hauling livestock, the ultimate goal is to put as little stress on the animal while getting them to their destination safely. Often times, the destination is 1,000 miles or more from the operation. This requires livestock haulers to travel for more than 10 hours.  With the ELD Mandate comes hours of service (HOS), which according to Protect the Harvest “requires that drivers can only be on the road for 11 hours of a 14 hour shift.” Personally, policymakers need to re-evaluate the mandate and ask themselves what would happen if a livestock hauler does not make it to their destination during this time frame. This severely decreases the efficiency of livestock arriving at their destination on time.

Animal welfare concerns

While policymakers are trying to make the roads safer, they are not considering the number of animal welfare rules they are putting into question. Farmers, ranchers, and livestock enthusiasts understand ventilation for animals is important when traveling. If a livestock hauler does not reach its destination in the hours of service, they have to stop for a 10-hour rest break. There are limited animal infrastructures that can house the number of livestock hauled across the nation. The industry’s advocate, Protect the Harvest, explains the process of unloading, laying over, then reloading livestock during the 10-hour break period.

ELD Mandate Animal Welfare
Protect the Harvest works tirelessly to inform policymakers on the risks the ELD mandate brings forth to the agricultural industry. The mandate is a “giant step backwards for animal welfare.” Photo credit: Protect the Harvest

As of December 2017, the FMCSA has not found any safety improvements with carriers who started using logging devices. In the upcoming months, I hope policymakers become aware of how they are restricting transportation of livestock across the nation and the mandate will be revised.

To express your concerns about the mandate, please contact your senators and representatives by visiting USA.gov. For more information about the ELD Mandate, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Do you have more questions regarding the ELD mandate and its impact on the industry? To increase your knowledge about the ELD Mandate, please visit Protect the Harvest’s website.

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