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Showcasing equine practice


Lexington, Ky. - For the last five years, Dr. William A. Rood, co-founder and director of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, has been doing some proselytizing - seeking to convert as many young veterinary students as he can to the practice of equine medicine.

LEXINGTON, KY. — For the last five years, Dr. William A. Rood, co-founder and director of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, has been doing some proselytizing — seeking to convert as many young veterinary students as he can to the practice of equine medicine.

It seems to be working.

Over Labor Day weekend, 528 third-year students from 34 veterinary schools across North America and the Caribbean attended Rood & Riddle's fifth annual Opportunities in Equine Practice Seminar (OEPS). Most received all-expense-paid trips to Lexington to hear leading speakers on equine medicine, meet practitioners, visit horse farms and tour veterinary hospitals and Keeneland Racecourse.

Rood, DVM, JD, came up with the idea five years ago as a way to help address the shortage of equine practitioners. The first OEPS in 2003 drew 300 students. Last year, attendance reached 480.

Checking out job leads: Students attending the Opportunities in Equine Practice (OEPS) seminar look over exhibits from 41 practices. (Photo courtesy of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital)

Attendees must be third-year students and members of their school's chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).

The culture in veterinary schools tends to encourage students toward companion-animal practice and away from equine medicine, Rood says, adding that "some professors openly preach to them that life will be better on the companion-animal side — fewer hours, better starting pay, less likelihood of getting hurt and so on."

So Rood started OEPS to paint a different picture for students, pointing out that "equine practice has changed a lot in the last few years. Long hours? That's not necessarily so. It just depends on how much you want to work. Starting pay as an equine vet could be a little less, but the AVMA's latest study shows equine practitioners earn more than small-animal vets after about the fourth or fifth year."

Opportunities knocking: About a third of these veterinary students listening to OEPS speakers are undecided whether to pursue a career in equine medicine. Rood & Riddle officials hope to bring them into the fold by showcasing a variety of opportunities.

That's part of Rood's message, and he's making converts.

Of the first-year OEPS group, now graduated, 57 percent are still AAEP members and 52 percent of the second-year attendees are still in the AAEP. "That's perhaps 200 to 250 new equine practitioners," Rood says.

Rood is particularly pleased with this year's turnout. The 528 third-year students at OEPS represent the third-largest veterinary-student gathering in the country, after the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA) and those who meet at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC).

"It really says something that representatives of 41 practices (nationwide) put forth the effort to come here, — some from as far away as California, Arizona and Canada — set up exhibits like a job fair and meet the students," Rood says. "That just shows how much new equine doctors are needed. Another indicator is that the AAEP now has 226 jobs and 124 resumes on its Web site."

With Rood & Riddle organizing the OEPS, some 102 sponsors — about half from industry and half from private practices — covered travel and hotel expenses for up to 15 students from each school. AAEP student chapters could register additional members, but at their own expense for hotel and travel (they were covered for meals, tours and lectures). Some schools with more than 15 attendees divided the money equally among their group and either raised funds for the balance or had the students pick up the difference.

Down on the farm: One group of OEPS attendees visits Shadwell Farm, one of three horse farms on the seminar tour schedule. (Photos courtesy of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital)

The opening session on Friday brought the 528 attendees and 41 practitioners together for socializing and networking. Opportunities for internships, externships and practice associates were showcased.

"The group initially could be divided about three ways as to their interest level," says Elaine Souers, Rood's executive assistant. "About a third are born to be equine vets, perhaps raised around horses and already leaning in that career direction. They were really there to network. Another third aren't yet sure what they want to do, but they're open to equine practice while looking at all their options. And the remaining third might have come just for the social aspects, to have fun, but we usually end up convincing about half of them to consider an equine-medicine career."

Saturday's all-day program started with early-morning tours for all 528 (divided into four groups) of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Keeneland Racecourse and the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehab Center. Each of the four groups then visited one of three area horse farms. Saturday afternoon lectures covered prospects in equine medicine for women, for racetrack practice, group practice, diagnostic imaging and sport and Western performance. An evening barbecue dinner provided another networking opportunity.

Additional lectures were offered on Sunday morning. Those who stayed through Labor Day were provided transportation and free admission to the Kentucky Horse Park.

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