The Iowa Board of Regents of Iowa State University (ISU) Thursday approved the development of the first-ever Swine Medicine Education Center at ISU in Ames.

The concept for the center, which is expected to attract national and international interest, is the brainchild of Pat Halbur, DVM, chair of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at ISU.

Halbur presented the idea at last March’s annual meeting of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians in Omaha, and it received solid support from swine practitioners, Iowa pork and allied industries.

Halbur says he has been amazed at the high level of interest in the idea to provide intensified training for veterinary students at ISU, coupled with access to a modern and progressive pork production system for regular hands-on training coordinated by the Audubon-Manning Veterinary Clinic (AMVC), which is based at Audubon, IA.

“There are only 28 veterinary schools in North America, and many of those have made the choice to provide less time and less opportunities for clinical experiences in their curriculum for food animals overall and swine veterinary medicine in particular,” he says.

Other universities have taken the lead in developing centers of excellence for veterinary education in beef (University of Nebraska) and dairy (University of Minnesota, Michigan State University). I see a need and opportunity for ISU to do this in swine, and I think we are positioned with the faculty we already have in place and close working relationships we have with the private sector to fill that need in swine veterinary medical education,” says Halbur.

Development of the center will not in any way lessen the focus on beef, dairy, poultry or small ruminant work at ISU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, he stresses.

Locke Karriker, DVM, an associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at ISU, will serve as director for the new center.

“The goal of the center is not to be a ‘bricks and mortar’ facility, but rather an organization that gets the best science and information into the hands of people who can apply it most effectively to swine health, pork safety and animal welfare,” he explains. Initially, the goal is to provide expanded opportunities, hands-on clinical skills with live animals. Karriker also expects the center could become a hub for a very diverse population including producers, media and regulatory groups to learn about current swine science and practical clinical skills and also a place where researchers can get results into the right hands and applied faster. Veterinary students would learn how to collect blood samples from pigs, evaluate deaths, and analyze pig health and behavior in a large population.

Daryl Olsen, DVM, partner in AMVC, says current economics dictate support for this center. “I think agribusiness, including all businesses that support the swine industry, are going to have to help support our mission of educating the swine veterinarians to deal with the pressure of budgetary restraints.”

Olsen envisions designating a swine site for the center that would encompass a classroom facility to help veterinary students understand production, finance, nutrition, biosecurity and food safety, and provide good exposure to the animals from the sow unit all the way through the production phases. Long-term students could have the opportunity to experiment with different production practices and different types of equipment.

“Veterinary students from Iowa State, around the country and internationally would be given the opportunity to go through a four-week rotation and a very organized module of all the production information they would need to understand modern swine production,” he adds.

Karriker says plans are to launch the center with a spring 2011 curriculum. “We will clearly measure our success based on the quality of the students that we attract and their impact when they graduate.”

The mission is to provide the pork industry with skilled swine practitioners, not just increase the number of veterinary graduates.

Improving veterinary skill and participation in distance technology can add to the brain power without simply adding more brains in the pot, he explains. The new center will be well-positioned to promote things like telemedicine and serve as a hub for digital rounds sessions, so swine veterinarians can collectively review troublesome cases and offer their expertise, Karriker notes.

With the board’s approval of the proposal, the next step will be modifications to facilities to accommodate students, organization and building of the curriculum and fundraising efforts. When fully operational, the annual cost will be approximately $250,000, at least half of which will need to come from the pork industry.