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Future veterinarians develop workplace confidence

Dr. Jeffrey Rau of the Ontario Veterinary College's Ruminant Field Services help students transition from veterinary school to the workplace.The pressure to chart a post-graduation path can be daunting for fourth-year veterinary students. But programs like Ruminant Field Services (RFS) are reducing that stress by preparing veterinarians to join the workforce with confidence. As part of the Ontario AgriFood Innovation Alliance, the Veterinary Capacity Program (VCP) provides support for RFS, a learner-centred initiative that allows students to combine academics and real-world skills through working with a practising veterinarian.

VCP provides annual funding to the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) to help prepare veterinary graduates with an emphasis on animal agriculture, emergency preparedness, food security and animal-related public health.

Jeffrey Rau, a veterinarian at OVC and member of RFS, has worked with the program since 2010 and is dedicated to helping students who choose to pursue food animal medicine.

During their fourth and final year of veterinary school, students select the stream of medicine they want to specialize in. As with the vast number of opportunities in human medicine, veterinary students have several options. They can specialize in food animal, rural community practice, equine or small animals.

Students who pick the food animal or rural community practice stream have RFS as a core requirement of their program. They are paired with a veterinarian like Rau and take part in visits to local commercial farms. Such calls fall into one of two categories— herd/flock health management or emergencies.

With herd health calls, students will look at issues like nutrition, reproduction, udder health and pregnancy diagnoses. Common emergencies include difficulty in birthing and metabolic and infectious diseases.

Rau says both types of calls provide valuable experience that help students feel more confident and capable in their medical and surgical abilities. Students work their cases from start to finish— they review the history of the animal and herd, make a diagnosis, develop a treatment plan and follow up to make sure that the animal is improving as expected.

One of the most valuable aspects of the program is teaching students to communicate with their clients.

“Communication skills are fundamental when working with clients, no matter what field you are in,” says Rau. “RFS helps students develop their skills and knowledge to project a sense of care for the work that these farmers are doing. They care about what the farmer cares about.”

As part of the team, students learn about the culture and language of farming. When a student knows the vocabulary and pressures of farm life, farmers feel at ease and can trust that their herds are in knowledgeable hands.

Students in first, second and third years can also volunteer to join these visits. The OVC wants graduates to have a well-rounded experience working with all sorts of animals, including large animals like those seen in the RFS program.

The groups are small—usually 3-4 people—so that everyone gets a chance to work and develop their skills. Final-year students mentor and guide junior veterinary students. Rau says the hope is that students will learn about veterinary medicine in the agriculture and food sector and see that this is just one of many routes available to them.

Funding support for the RFS program is provided by the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

In the photo: Dr. Jeffrey Rau, OVC's Ruminant Field Services, works on-farm with student veterinarians.

Originally published in the U of G's Office of Research's 2019-2020 Agri-Food Yearbook