Two Colleges with a Common Vision

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech team up for education, research, and service.

Veterinary students learn catheterization techniques at Virginia Tech's Dairy Science Complex at Kentland Farm with instruction from Sherrie Clark, associate professor of theriogenology and production management medicine section chief.

Even before the establishment of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, the veterinary sciences had a long tradition at Virginia Tech.

In 1891, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now known as Virginia Tech) established a Department of Biology, which included the veterinary sciences, and then in 1959, it formed a separate Department of Veterinary Sciences. Students who wanted a veterinary degree, however, had to turn elsewhere until the creation of the regional veterinary college — a partnership between Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland.

Today, the veterinary college and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech continue their strong relationship and are working together on education, research, and service related to food supply animals.

Food animal education

Third-year veterinary student Kaitlyn Pontuti (center) learns how to place an IV ear catheter at Virginia Tech's Dairy Science Complex at Kentland Farm with instruction from production management medicine intern Jessica Bradford.

"We benefit from our partnership with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences not only in the food animal caseload at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, but also in the clinical teaching experiences that we offer our students who are working with Virginia Tech’s food animals, whether on campus or at the new dairy facility on Kentland Farm,” said William S. "Terry" Swecker, professor of production management medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The veterinary college’s busy ambulatory Food Animal Field Services unit provides on-the-farm primary and emergency patient care and preventive health care programs to large herds of beef and dairy cows, swine, and sheep owned by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. These also include animals at the 11 agricultural research and Extension centers around the commonwealth.

Third-year veterinary students Joseph O'Hara (left) and Jared Risser learn clinical techniques at Virginia Tech's Dairy Science Complex at Kentland Farm.

"We work with all agricultural animals, but the dairy facility is our primary client because they have a large number of animals and we are out there every day," said Sherrie Clark, associate professor of theriogenology and production management medicine section chief. "We have a primary faculty member who works with each unit, and we work with our counterparts in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to develop health plans for each farm and determine what teaching opportunities are available."

Although faculty members often incorporate these teaching opportunities into their courses, sometimes they include them in wet labs or other extracurricular activities. For example, Clark works with the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences to organize combined wet labs for veterinary and animal sciences students.

The production management medicine team also provides instructional support and demonstrations for animal sciences, dairy science, and agricultural technology courses — not to mention the workshops, conferences, and lectures that the college’s three Virginia Cooperative Extension veterinarians offer the state’s livestock producers.

Lamb watch at Virginia Tech's sheep center

Veterinary students gain hands-on experiences at the Virginia Tech Sheep Center through a lamb watch program.

Several veterinary students have gained hands-on livestock experiences at the Virginia Tech Sheep Center. Sierra Guynn, clinical assistant professor of production management medicine, arranges with the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences for veterinary students to watch for the arrival of new lambs when animal science students, who are on lamb watch as part of their coursework, are unavailable.

Jessica Lambert, a third-year veterinary student from Frederick, Maryland, explained that lamb watch gave students like her first-hand experience with basic tasks needed to process newborn lambs, such as tubing the lambs with colostrum — a form of milk produced in late pregnancy — if they have not nursed yet.

Veterinary student Allyson Ripley, a member of the Class of 2015, provides care for a newborn lamb.

"The lamb watch program is a mutually beneficial experience," she said. "We positively influence the health of the ewes and lambs while getting to learn about the process."

Erica Izer, a third-year veterinary student from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, agreed.

"This experience especially helps the Virginia Tech farm manager," said Izer, who is also president of the Food Animal Practitioners Club and had previous lamb watch experience through the club. "We provide more manpower during the lambing process, and a veterinarian is always on call if we are in a situation that we can’t handle."

View the full story in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of TRACKS magazine.