AMVC and SMEC enhance the future of the swine industry

swine veterinarians learn from AMVC and ISU

posted on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 in Central Region News

Veterinarians in all disciplines agree, when it comes to new veterinary hires, they wish graduates had the knowledge to hit the ground running. However, reality shows veterinary clinics must plan on many hours of internal and external training, job shadowing, mentoring and follow-up with these new hires. All practices – regardless of size – could benefit from more real-world, hands-on training prior to new hires graduating from vet school.

The partners at AMVC Management Services, based in Audubon, IA, were no different. As they saw their pig management and veterinary clinics grow, (9th largest pork producer in the U.S.), they identified a potential employee shortage. As more new veterinarians are now coming from non-rural, city-based backgrounds, most young veterinarians have no idea what a swine veterinarian career looks like. That translated into fewer new swine veterinarians.

This is especially true in those veterinary schools outside of the Swine Belt and have reduced budgets to help those students explore anything in food animal production. The management team at AMVC and their educational partners at Iowa State University knew that a new approach was needed to fill the needs of the industry and to assure their swine clients and producers of skilled, swine-focused veterinarians. So rather than just leave all the hard work to others, they jumped in with both feet, and with the collaboration with Iowa State University, started the Swine Medicine Education Center (SMEC). AMVC wanted to ensure this project was a success, so they hired Dr. Josh Ellingson in 2011 to implement the project. As the center grew Dr. Paul Thomas (DVM, ISU 2013) joined AMVC after completing a post-doc at ISU, and now helps oversee the project as well.

“The SMEC is dedicated to providing veterinary students and practicing veterinarians from across the U.S. and around the world with extensive hands-on experiences and education in swine health and production,” outlines Dr. Ellingson.

“Our mission is to collect and synthesize the best practices for clinical swine medicine to translate and disseminate those practices to stakeholders who can apply them to improve swine health, ensure pork safety, maintain sustainability and conserve resources.”

The Board of Directors of the SMEC brings together recognized expertise in swine medicine and diagnostics, including Director Locke Karriker, DVM, MS, DACVPM and Patrick Halbur, DVM, MS, PhD along with representation from past students, the Iowa State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Swine Medicine Section at ISU.

A long list of veterans of the veterinary field contribute expertise and work tirelessly to advance swine research and pedagogy to ensure the best opportunities in education and production for veterinarians, producers, students and consumers in the field. The SMEC was developed in response to report by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges the suggested the future of food animal veterinary medicine require the development of species-specific centers of excellence that students would need to travel to in their fourth year of veterinary training.

Dr. Pat Halbur presented a vision of this for Iowa and swine medicine at a national meeting and Drs. Daryl Olsen, DVM, and Jason Hocker, DVM, jumped at the opportunity. The main program consists of four individual, on-farm, classes that are two weeks long, and they limit each two-week session to 12 students per group to enhance the teaching environment.

“We try to teach every student the necessary skills to be effective day one as a practicing swine vet,” says AMVC Veterinarian and SMEC clinical instructor, Paul Thomas. “We walk students through a process of systematically looking at a group of pigs, discuss how to evaluate them based on physical appearance and other factors, how to safely bleed pigs and collect tissues, and how to prepare and send off cases to the diagnostic labs. We look at water quality, vaccine administration and feed ingredients. We take it to the next logical step, and that is once we have a diagnosis, we look at what is the best treatment and prevention plan available for that specific herd, flow, and producer. We try and provide the students with the resources to make decisions based on all factors. Doing this in modern swine farms adds important elements that are not possible in a classroom.”

The program officially started in 2011 and had impacted the entire pork chain.

“The benefits of the SMEC program to the pork industry are multifold,” adds Dr. Ellingson. “If a school can’t afford to send student, we have historically been successful finding sponsorship to support these students. We are committed to keeping these types of opportunities available for all students and thus providing talented people back to the swine industry. The results are evident with the graduating veterinarians that truly hit the ground running with the confidence in making diagnoses and developing plans. Most of all, by giving them practical experience in the real-world pork production yet in a controlled environment, we are removing the ‘surprises’ they may be apprehensive about when choosing swine as their specialty.”

According to Dr. Thomas, funding remains the program’s constant challenge. “We do a lot of fundraising with the industry stakeholders to help offset the costs of educating students. Providing a top-notch education at a different swine farm each day comes with significant expense. The costs of instructors, sample collection and PPE materials, diagnostics, travel to farms and lodging for students adds up.

“Many of the students come from out-of-state and can’t bring funding from their university with them,” Dr. Thomas adds. “The challenge is to find a way to make up that shortfall, so the SMEC can educate every aspiring swine vet across the country. It’s also in the best interest of the swine industry.”

In conclusion Dr. Ellingson notes, “We have been lucky to have significant sponsors that have shared our vision, but more are needed, especially as the program continues to grow and evolve. Most universities are facing budget shortfalls, and we continue to see swine training programs shrink across the country. The SMEC can continue to help efficiently fill this void with continued support from industry stakeholders. Our goal is to make sure everyone has access to the training and opportunities they need to be future assets to the industry. We are excited to continue to improve our offerings and help both future students and producers. That’s why the program was started in the first place.”

Article credit to: Aurora Pharmaceutical, Inc. DVM Business Essentials, Volume 4 Issue 1. 


  1. ag education
  2. amvc veterinarian
  3. college students
  4. swine