Animal Health Matters: Insights on South Dakota's animal science programs

Chris Chase
South Dakota State University
Chris Chase, professor at South Dakota State University

(Editor's note: Russ Daly, the writer of Animal Health Matters, is currently on vacation until May 2023. Guests columnists from the region will be writing this bi-weekly publication during his absence.)

I am originally from Sisseton, South Dakota. I went to South Dakota State University (SDSU) for my pre-vet, Iowa State to vet school, practiced for 5 years in Viborg and then went back to school for a PhD in viruses and vaccines at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I have been back at SDSU since 1992 and have been doing cattle and swine diagnostic, immunology and vaccine research and teaching along with quite a few producer and veterinarian outreach meetings. In 2014 SDSU started on a new project: the Professional Program for Veterinary Medicine (PPVM) which also goes by the nickname of a “2+2” program.

This is a cooperative program with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota (UMN). The program selects 20 students a year and they spend their first 2 years at SDSU in Brookings and the last two years at UMN in St. Paul (hence 2+2). There are other 2+2 programs between University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State, Utah State and Washington State and University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Colorado State University. This program enrolled our first class in the fall of 2021 and our second class in the fall of 2022.

The guiding principles that the SDSU PPVM was founded on was providing an enhanced “hands-on” experience to veterinary professional students, training more “rural” practitioners and keeping tuition as low as possible to keep the debt load lower. A key to developing the program involved stakeholder input and support from both the veterinary and producer communities.

We use a regional concept for admissions with almost all of our students being from South Dakota and the surrounding states. We have our own admissions committee to provide our own input. We have many veterinarians throughout the region who help with the interviews of our applicants to help us identify the best candidates.

One of the big advantages of a small class is the ability to increase the one-on-one teaching and the opportunity to do a lot of small group activities to improve communication and diagnostic skills. We were fortunate that the State of South Dakota provided funding to build a new Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL) that opened in 2019. That allowed us to renovate the old facility to become a teaching and research center for the PPVM. The old post-mortem floor became the anatomy laboratory and other spaces were converted in to teaching labs and classrooms with the latest information technology (IT).

We take advantage of the tremendous assets of the animals housed at the Animal Science and Dairy Science production facilities that are just north of campus to provide opportunities for handling and husbandry experiences. We are also fortunate to have a great relationship with Southeast VoTech and their veterinary technician program. We can use their facilities on the weekends for dentistry and x-rays labs.

We have been able to hire a mixture of experienced veterinarians with several areas of expertise to be the backbone of our faculty. Several of our faculty have extensive clinical practice experience to give our students the latest in clinical and herd approaches.

We are also fortunate to have faculty who can teach in the PPVM program and work with cases at the ADRDL. The ADRDL and the cases that are submitted also provide a great learning opportunity for our professional students. We also share faculty from Animal Science and the SDSU College of Pharmacy who provide additional expertise in genetics, nutrition, pharmacology, physiology and husbandry for the PPVM.

Because the development of clinical skills and clinical competency is so important, the students begin doing clinical skills on their first day in class. The SDSU-UMN curriculum begins teaching clinical courses like medicine and surgery in the second year. These courses normally were taught in the third year and again we want our future veterinarians to get as much experience before their “real education” begins with their first job in practice.

We also give our students an opportunity to do a research project as well. This provides an opportunity for them to develop an understanding of research and we try to keep the projects practical with application to clinical medicine.

We are proud of this program, and we would be glad to talk to anyone who would like more details.

Chris Chase is a professor at South Dakota State University.