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Veterinary students study wildlife population health
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Two veterinary students at Mississippi State University are the first to study wildlife populations in the College of Veterinary Medicine's dual-degree program.
But their particular interests in wildlife population health are very different. Brittany Baughman is studying epidemiology, and Ellen Lark is focusing on conservation and reproduction of endangered wildlife populations.
"It's interesting that Brittany and Ellen both chose to study wildlife populations, but they are studying at opposite ends of the spectrum,"said Dr. Skip Jack, a professor in the pathobiology and population medicine department and coordinator for the program.
The 9-year-old MSU dual-degree program allows students to earn the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree as well as a master's degree in the student's chosen field. The first two and a half years are the same for all veterinary students. But during the spring of their third year, dual-degree students begin taking graduate courses.
"The flexibility in our third and fourth years allows students to focus their studies," Jack said. "Most students take externships or advanced studies; dual-degree students take graduate courses."
During their fifth year of study, dual-degree students complete a series of three- to six-week internships with various agencies.
"It takes a pretty sizable commitment for a student to stay in school an extra year," Jack said. "These students effectively go to school straight through from the fall of their sophomore year for the next four years. They don't have summer breaks."
Dual-degree students focus on populations of animals, rather than individual animals. Jack compared this to the Centers for Disease Control, which deals with the health of large groups of people, as opposed to a private physician who treats individual patients.
Baughman, a Cleveland native, spent last summer working with U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians in Southern California on Newcastle disease, a reportable foreign animal disease that mainly affects poultry and other birds.
She is winding up an internship with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Ga., after which she will travel to Fort Collins, Colo., to the Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health to work with veterinarians on Chronic Wasting Disease of deer and elk.
Lark began her fifth year with an internship at a raptor rehabilitation center in Alaska. Recently, she attended Wildlife Disease Association meetings in Minnesota. In December and January, she will work with the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species with the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
While there, she will intern at the Aquarium of the Americas. Later, Lark will visit the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc., to work with migratory waterfowl.
Money doesn't offer much of an incentive for the students either. Fort Dodge Animal Health provides a limited travel budget to all fifth-year students. Some internships offer housing, and some individual agencies will provide stipends.
These interns primarily live off of student loans or other sources of income.
But students who choose to go the dual-degree route gain valuable experience and advanced training with leaders in their chosen fields.
"More and more of our students are choosing to do things other than private veterinary practice," Jack said. "This is a great experience that opens up diverse job opportunities with government agencies, big private organizations and others."
The CVM currently accepts up to six students annually in the dual-degree program. But in the future, Jack hopes 15 to 20 students will be able to work on two degrees simultaneously.
"Most other schools choose one area on which to emphasize, whereas we give our students a choice of multiple directions,"Jack said. "They can choose to specialize in dairy, beef, swine, poultry, aquaculture, wildlife or food safety."
Jack said the success of the dual-degree program is a result of collaborative efforts with other departments on campus, including animal and dairy sciences, wildlife and fisheries, agricultural economics and business.
He believes more students will opt for the dual-degree program once they realize its value.
"More students are trying to get out of the mainstream, and this is a great way to do that," Jack added. "We would like to see the program expand further."
Contact: Dr. Skip Jack, (662) 325-1311