I have had a variety of great higher education learning experiences that have guided me on my path to pursuing my PhD in Animal science at VT now. I had the opportunity to attend on full scholarship the 2 summer semester program of the Midwest poultry consortium where I earned a certificate in poultry science and decided to go to graduate school. These classes were great, not only because they were tailored to exactly what we all wanted to learn about- poultry science- but also because they also used integrated learning experiences with multiple expert professionals working together. In my first summer semester we had afternoon labs in avian physiology: where we worked with quail, took EKGs of chickens, and fed food coloring to laying hens to see how it impacted the yolk color of their eggs; and poultry processing and food science: where we learned about the slaughter process by following the entire process with our own bird, we then learned how products were created and ate a lot of great turkey. The next summer our afternoons were filled with simulated research in nutrition, and doing diagnostic necropsies with real submissions under the supervision of the diagnostic lab staff. All of these activities served to reinforce the morning lecture contents and to provide a new environment that is reflective of the real world in poultry science. I hope to bring this style of teaching to my own classroom and to hopefully impact a student the same way I was impacted. I know it is extremely challenging to successfully integrate such lab and lectures so I am trying to adopt a course coordinator approach to teaching the introductory courses to expose students to many experts and opportunities at the university. Ideally this approach would set students up for identifying areas of interest and forming connections to get involved in research or other opportunities related to those interests. As an instructor I would never be able to accomplish this for students alone.
Veterinarian suicide has been in the news recently as the tragedy it rightfully is (Link); however, this is not a new problem. In 2018 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a press release following a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research article which found that suicide among veterinarians was higher than the general population during a time frame of 1979 to 2015 (Link)(American Veterinary Medical Association, 2018). There are many reasons being blamed for the higher rate of suicide- crippling debt, limited job prospects, difficult job tasks, unhappy customers, etc. But the fact remains that veterinarians are killing themselves at an alarming rate- one suicide is already too many regardless of the population.
This issue has hit close to home to me as many friends and my sister are in the veterinary medical profession, but also because 85 % of the incoming freshman in 2018 to the Animal and Poultry Science department at Virginia Tech declared their intended interest was pre-veterinary medicine (VT APSC, 2019). That means in an average class size of 200, there are 170 students that intend to enter the veterinary medicine field- this is normal in animal science departments across the country. As an educator and mentor to these students this terrifies me, we are training students to enter a career field that may drive them to suicide.
There are programs for veterinarians and vet students to be exposed to well being practices and companies that employee veterinarians have made financial commitments to teach coping skills with the goal to reduce suicide (American Veterinary Medical Association, n.d.). I wonder if the Animal Science discipline, of which veterinary medicine is one small part, has a responsibility to dealing with this crisis. Currently, before vet school little discussion about suicide is provided to students. Do Animal Science faculty members have a responsibility to talk with pre-vet students about suicide? Should undergraduate faculty members who served as mentors to these students have a responsibility to stay connected to these now veterinarians and continue mentoring? The crisis of veterinarian suicide is heartbreaking and horrible, I think that animal science departments should be considering their role in mitigating veterinarian suicide.
American Veterinary Medical Association. 2018, December 21. AVMA combating suicide amongst veterinary professionals [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/News/PressRoom/Pages/AVMA-combating-suicide-amongst-veterinary-professionals.aspx
American Veterinary Medical Association. n.d. Wellbeing and Peer Assistance. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/PeerAndWellness/Pages/default.aspx
Virginia Tech department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. 2019. Animal and Poultry Sciences 2019 Departmental Review. Blacksburg, VA: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.