Along with an early interest in the profession, veterinarians who responded to this survey also told researchers that a rural lifestyle was an important factor in why they chose to pursue a rural career. Other reasons, weighted equally, were community need, individual animal care, herd level animal care and family concerns.

“The relationships we have with people in the community are a big draw for a lot of veterinary students and veterinarians to return to rural areas, raise their families, and enjoy that kind of lifestyle,” Tripp points out.

Rademacher adds, “Mainly because of my background in agriculture and coming from a rural community I want to be back in one.”

Location and practice atmosphere, followed by mentorship, ownership, facilities and caseload were other factors respondents deemed to be of higher importance in their work of choice. These factors trumped salary, time off, emergency pay and family concerns—for the time being, at least.

For Rademacher, the location of a practice, its atmosphere and longevity are important factors. “Definitely the opportunity for partnership or ownership is a big one because I’d really like to own my own practice, or be partners in one or multiple practices,” he notes.

“That’s another thing that drew me to veterinary medicine; the entrepreneurial aspect where you do have the opportunity to be a professional, a doctor, and own your own business at the same time.” He’s also interested in furthering his education with an MS or PhD and long term, raising a large herd of commercial cattle.

Tripp comments, “A veterinary career is so diverse with opportunities. Whether you want to do urban, small animal or rural mixed animal, feedlot consulting, industry or academia, the door is wide open for all those things. You work on animals, but it’s still a people business whether you’re a small animal or a food animal practitioner.” And mentors are very important.

Mentors make a difference

“It would be hard to put into words the value of good mentors,” Tripp remarks. “Mentors are valuable and the more you have, the better. That’s something that we as young, aspiring practitioners have to be very diligent about pursuing—identify good practitioners and pursue them as mentors.”

Among several others, Tripp lists industry experts such as Dr. Del Miles, Dr. Bob Smith and Dr. Dee Griffin on his list of “incredible mentors.” This list also includes Dr. D.L. Step, one of his professors at Oklahoma State, the late Dr. Roger Wonderlich, his own dad, two uncles, an aunt and cousin all in rural mixed animal practices.

“The value of their advice and encouragement is immeasurable in my mind. Their enthusiasm for the profession and what they do is infectious. Dr. Step is a great example of that,” he says.

Rademacher identifies his father and his father’s partners as his key mentors. He’s also traveled with his dad to meetings such as the Academy of Veterinary Consultants. Veterinarians, especially feedlot consultants such as Dr. Miles and Dr. Smith whom he met there, along with lectures and learning more about what these professionals do for the industry, helped him solidify his career choice.

Tripp remarks, “It’s preached to us all the time at school that learning doesn’t really start until you graduate. As hard as we work and as much as we learn, all we’re doing in veterinary school is establishing baseline knowledge and preparing ourselves for the true learning. So the value of mentors is tremendous for new grads.”

He relays, “Compensation and lifestyle aside, one of the things I know a lot of students I visit with value, and hope for, is a really strong mentorship from whomever they go into practice with. That’s not something you can quantify or put a number on. The mentorships and the experience you can get under experienced practitioners once you enter practice are extremely, extremely invaluable.”

Interestingly, mentorship was a factor that constantly came up, according to researchers, when survey respondents advised students interested in a rural veterinary practice career.

Respondents, considered as seasoned, experienced and skilled veterinarians or recent graduates, especially encouraged students to realize what the rural practice lifestyle means and to also be sure to discuss the details and goals of a job before being hired. Also important for rural practice is a positive, flexible attitude.

“We have the chance not only to help sustain the rural lifestyle we’ve come to know, but help provide a safe, wholesome, nutritious food supply,” Tripp points out. “All of the fundamentals and numbers show our jobs, as it relates to food production, aren’t going to become anything but more important as we progress through the 21st Century.”

He adds, “Looking back, I can’t imagine anything different. And looking ahead, I think it’s going to be a rewarding career—not just for me, but for any aspiring food animal practitioner.”

For Further Reference

The studies were conducted by: Aurora Villarroel, DVM, MPVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVPM; Stephen R. McDonald, DVM; William L. Walker, DVM; Lana Kaiser, MD, DVM; Renee D. Dewell, DVM, MS; and Grant A. Dewell, DVM, PhD. The full studies were published in the April 15, 2010, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Modules are available online through the American Association of Bovine Practitioners at www.AnimalCareTraining.org, managed by the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University.