A federal grant announced this week will help to propel Iowa State University’s (ISU) Swine Medicine Education Center (SMEC) from a regional presence to a national leader that will attract veterinary students from across the country, says Locke Karriker, DVM, the director of the SMEC and an ISU associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine.

The three-year, $713,847 Higher Education Challenge Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will transform SMEC into a national center of excellence and a resource for providing unparalleled hands-on opportunities to veterinary students across the United States who want to specialize in swine medicine, Karriker says.

“Our goal is to create an opportunity to train students on every clinical technique used on swine,” he says. “From a veterinary perspective, we want to be a library and archive of those techniques coupled with real opportunities for students to understand and practice the highest standard of medicine on individuals and populations of pigs in the most modern production systems.”

Karriker says similar national centers of excellence have been established for dairy and beef veterinary medicine, but SMEC is the only such center to specialize in swine medicine. It will be a highly sought destination for veterinary students from around the country who want in-depth training on swine, he says.

A joint effort between the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Iowa-based Audubon-Manning Veterinary Clinic, the center collects and synthesizes best practices for clinical swine medicine and disseminates those practices to the veterinary community, pork producers and consumers. The project funded by the grant also incorporates the American Association of Swine Veterinarians as collaborators. The involvement of the Audubon-Manning Veterinary Clinic facilitates access to production herds, while members of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians will review the SMEC curriculum.

The SMEC opened its doors to fourth-year veterinary students in 2011, providing two weeks of specialized course work for ISU students as well as students at other institutions. Of the 42 students who enrolled in the program for academic credit during its first year, 31 were from Iowa State, while 11 students came from other veterinary schools. This year, total enrollment has grown to 51, with 37 ISU students and 14 external students. 

Karriker said the non-ISU students who complete SMEC course work represent most of the top veterinary schools across the country.

He says the SMEC strives to prepare students for dynamic issues that will shape veterinary science in the coming years. For instance, he says rising average herd sizes, increasing regulatory complexity and greater reliance on technology are changing the face of swine medicine. The grant will help the SMEC to develop curriculum and provide students with practical experience better suited to meet these emerging challenges, he says.

The USDA grant will allow the SMEC to add a week of online course work to the beginning of the program to better prepare students for their two weeks of hands-on clinical work, Karriker says. In addition, the grant will help the SMEC offer four new courses on pharmacology, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) diagnosis and management, production and business management and basic medical skills.

The USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant program, administered through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, addresses educational needs through creative approaches that can serve as a model to others and will likely result in benefits extending beyond the duration of a particular project.