State Fair Vet Camp Fosters Interest in Ag Medicine

Aug 18, 2015

There is no shortage of veterinarians for house pets, but in some rural areas of the United States there aren’t enough veterinarians to go around for livestock.  A program called Vet Camp at the Iowa State Fair recognizes this problem and it is doing something to encourage youth to explore veterinary medicine on the farm as a career. 

In a small air conditioned room at the Jacobson Exhibition Center, seven children are watching a video of a cow undergoing a cesarean section.  It shows a doctor stitching layers of the cow from the incisions after the calf is delivered.  The kids, age 11 through 18, are here for a series of lectures and demonstrations in two hours led by veterinarians who are volunteering their time at the fair.  

 Emily Wynn is the Agriculture Education Coordinator for the Iowa State Fair. She says part of the camp deals with dogs and cats because it is often a starting point for kids to learn about other animals like pigs, cows, and horses. “There’s a lack of large animal vets across the country,” says Wynn. “Even kids who might not have grown up with large animals or farm animals, it shows that you know there is that option and those animals do exist and they need veterinary care also.”

The camp is divided into three sections.  After the section about birth, the children move to another teacher to learn about stitching a wound.  Because they can’t use live animals, they practice on bananas.  They start by making a cut on the exterior of the fruit, then carefully thread the simulated wound with a real suture needle as a vet provides guidance.

As part of Vet Camp at Iowa State Fair, children practice suturing a wound on a bananas.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

14-year old Colin Kirk says it wasn’t easy getting started, but “After the second one or so I kinda got it down after they gave me a couple tips or whatever,” says Kirk.  When asked if he wants to do this on a living being some day he laughs and says “I might.”

Dr. Troy Brick is an assistant professor at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and says his industry benefits when youth are put in a demonstration program like Vet Camp.  “Over time after being involved in the camp then they start to think, you know this is some- do I... am I really interested,” says Dr. Brick.  “That interest is either gonna build or they’re gonna decide there’s another direction they wanna go.  And I think it’s that way with just about any profession, but I see the veterinary profession in Iowa is really still a product of starting at a young age, and you can build it all the way through.”  Dr. Brick says, one of his students attended a state fair Vet Camp years ago and it made her want to be a veterinarian even more.  

State fair Ag Education Coordinator Emily Wynn says while this program is popular, they are only able to do 12 vet camps during the fair with 20 students each. “I think there’s a lot of people that want us to make it bigger,” says Wynn.  “It’s just hard to get those volunteers so if there are vets, vet techs, vet students that are interested, we are more than willing but it’s kinda- we’re kinda limited on the amount of Vet Camps we can have based on the amount of volunteers to help instruct.” 

Registration for next year’s camp begins in the spring and if response for 2016 is anything like this year, enrollment will be filled by May.