Montana students who want to become veterinarians can now apply for a new Montana-centered veterinary medicine program, offered through cooperation between Montana State University and Washington State University.

Students can apply online through Oct. 2. Classes will begin in August 2014.

The Montana Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock approved the creation and funding for the program during the 2013 legislative session. MSU President Waded Cruzado pushed for the new program to help with a shortage of veterinarians in rural Montana.

Students will apply to the Washington State College of Veterinary Medicine (at https://portal.vmcas.org/) as Montana residents, said Rebecca Mattix, an MSU teaching professor and pre-veterinary adviser, who earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine at WSU. A supplemental application will then ask detailed questions about pursuing admission through the Montana Cooperative Veterinary Medicine Program.

Ten Montanans will be chosen for the new program. Mattix said the admissions committee -- made up of MSU and WSU faculty and representatives from the Montana veterinary and livestock industries -- will identify students who have strong ties to Montana and want to work in food animal medicine and other areas of emphasis.

Acceptance will provide students a unique opportunity to continue their education in Montana, while establishing links with the Montana veterinary profession far earlier than if they attended an out-of-state school, Mattix said.

Students will take their first year of classes in Bozeman, in small classes with a teacher-student ratio of one to 10. Montana veterinarians will participate in the first-year curriculum at Bozeman.

After that, students will go to Pullman, Wash., to take classes at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. During summers, students will have opportunities to work in Montana veterinary practices. Any senior veterinary student from WSU will also be able to rotate through established veterinary practices in Montana.

WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine is ranked in the top 15 in the nation, has a strong emphasis on livestock medicine, and is the home of the School for Global Animal Health, Mattix said.

Mark Jutila, an MSU veterinary immunologist who earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at WSU, said the new program will build on long-standing research collaborations between MSU and WSU in animal health.

The veterinary medicine program is modeled after the highly successful WWAMI Medical Education Program, which has provided medical training for Montana students to become doctors for more than 40 years.

Montana has more than 29,000 family farms and ranches. Since Montana has 2.5 million cattle and calves with roughly $1.4 billion in annual livestock sales, the livestock industry accounts for half of the state’s agricultural economy.

Montana has a shortage of 278 livestock veterinarians, according to the Montana Veterinary Medical Association. Besides that, 63 percent of the 125 Montana veterinarians now working in a food animal practice are nearing retirement.

The new veterinary program will help rebuild the veterinarian workforce in rural Montana and provide affordable access to a veterinary medical education, Mattix said. It will support rural communities and family ranches by bringing new veterinarians into underserved areas.

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