Students Serve Kentucky’s Underserved

photo of Mary Jehlik, Carter Mobley, Tyler Horton and Camille Ogletree.
Four fourth-year College of Veterinary Medicine students selected to participate in a USDA program to partner with local veterinarians and strengthen veterinary services in designated underserved Kentucky rural populations are ready to learn and be a part of this inaugural program. From left, Mary Jehlik, Carter Mobley, Tyler Horton and Camille Ogletree.

Four fourth-year College of Veterinary Medicine students—selected to participate in a USDA program to partner with local veterinarians and strengthen veterinary services in designated underserved Kentucky rural populations—are learning as part of this inaugural program.

The four fourth-year students—Mary Jehlik, Camille Ogletree, Carter Mobley and Tyler Horton—started in March when the program began. Selected through an extensive application process to fulfill their preceptorships in collaboration with this new program, they look forward to providing veterinary services they learned while at Auburn and working in communities where more veterinarians are needed.

Through the USDA’s Veterinary Services Grant Program, students were matched with veterinarians in rural Kentucky, and both groups see the program as beneficial: the student receiving hands-on experience while the veterinarian gains some much-needed assistance.

Jehlik is working with Drs. Elizabeth ’02 and John ’04 Tabor at Cornerstone Veterinary Service in Russellville; Dr. James Rice ’81 is mentoring Ogletree at his clinic in Cynthiana; Mobley is with Dr. Scott Weakley ’85, a partner with Central Kentucky Veterinary Center in Georgetown; and Dr. LW Beckley ’00 is mentoring Horton in his mixed-animal practice in Ravenna.

While this program helps students start the next chapter of their veterinary stories, their early chapters resound with similar themes. Most veterinary students decide at an early age that they want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. These students are no different.

“I’ve always loved animals and science,” said program selectee Mary Jehlik. The Mt. Sterling, Ky., native attended college at Murray State and Campbellsville Universities in Kentucky, where she played on the women’s basketball teams and earned an undergraduate degree in biology with a minor in chemistry.

“I made the decision to go into veterinary medicine during my freshman year of college,” Jehlik said. “I grew up on a farm and was around animals my whole life. I was talking with my mom about what direction to go with my degree and it just made sense to pursue veterinary medicine.”

Carrolton, Ga., native Camille Ogletree is a graduate of Auburn University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in animal science. She was involved with the pre-vet club in the College of Agriculture and, like Jehlik, grew up on a farm.

“I always thought that I would go into the medical profession,” Ogletree said. “And I knew before I finished high school that I wanted to be in veterinary medicine because of my passion for animals.

“My career ambition is to serve an underserved rural area, and this program presented the ultimate opportunity for me to do that, beginning with my preceptorship.”

Carter Mobley of Manchester, Ky., is a graduate of Morehead State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and said his interest in veterinary medicine also comes from growing up on a cattle farm.

“I have been around cattle my whole life,” Mobley said. “I loved working in agriculture, and this is what I have always wanted to do. When this grant program was offered, it presented an opportunity to make going back to my home state to work in the area that I am most passionate a reality.”

Quitman, La., native Tyler Horton could have gone to veterinary college elsewhere, but he chose Auburn. “Auburn felt like home.” Horton obtained his undergraduate degree in animal science from Louisiana Tech University. He said he always wanted to go to medical school, but veterinary medicine appealed to him most.

“Auburn is about the same distance from our families in Louisiana and Kentucky. I did not grow up on a farm, but I lived near my grandparents, who raised cattle. I started out studying biology, but I never saw myself as someone to work in an office. I love the outdoors and working with animals.”

All four say their interest is to work in mixed practice—both small and large animal—veterinary medicine.

For the practicing veterinarians who will work with the students, this program could be vital in ensuring the Commonwealth of Kentucky has a strong pool of veterinarians statewide.

“This program is a good deal for these young veterinary students,” said Dr. Weakley, the veterinary clinic partner in Georgetown where Mobley is working. Dr. Weakley said it was growing up on a cattle and tobacco farm that drew him to veterinary medicine.

“When I was a teenager, I assisted the local vets going farm-to-farm treating primarily dairy cattle, and the interactions with farmers and the lifestyle of the vets appealed to me,” Dr. Weakley said. “It is hard to find young veterinarians who are interested in working in a clinic for large animals, and this grant program makes it more attractive to the student. The need for them to practice here is real.”

Dr. Rice, the mentor of Ogletree, serves an eight-county region in northern Kentucky. He echoed Dr. Weakley’s statement that the need for veterinarians in rural Kentucky is genuine, but not all veterinarians are attracted to the need.

“It is hard for young veterinarians who want to establish themselves in these rural areas,” Dr. Rice said. “The need is there, but the population is small and the lifestyle and economic factors associated with the veterinarian’s decision about where to set up shop become significant.”

Dr. Beckley, who is mentoring Horton, serves a 45-mile area in his practice. Dr. Beckley said there is a definite shortage of mixed-animal vets in his area, making it impossible for his clinic to serve clients within a reasonable time frame. This new preceptorship grant is a way to improve service efficiency.

The grant allowed the college to create a program to “develop, implement, and sustain private veterinary services through education, training, recruitment, placement, and retention of veterinarians and students of veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Dan Givens, associate dean for Academic Affairs at the college.

Leading this project from Auburn are Dr. Misty Edmondson, a large animal associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences, and Glen Sellers, a clinical lecturer teaching business practice management to veterinary students. “Their expertise will enhance student and practitioner recruitment and provide mentoring and career enhancement,” Dr. Givens said.

The grant gives academic programs already in existence at the College of Veterinary Medicine—the college’s practice management rotation and preceptorship program—the opportunity for greater impact.

Auburn’s preceptorship program, for more than 40 years, has been a capstone educational experience for veterinary students. The eight-week training experience at the end of fourth-year students’ academic careers provides clinical practice experience under the supervision of a practicing veterinarian.

The practice management rotation provides an opportunity for practicing veterinarians to take part in an intensive business practice management program where students, under the direction of Sellers, who has an MBA, evaluate and make recommendations to strengthen their businesses.

This USDA program is just part of the Auburn-Kentucky veterinary relationship. Since 1951, Auburn has enrolled Kentucky students through a program managed by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), by which a set number of seats in each incoming class at the college is reserved for Kentucky students, and guarantees that Auburn charges Kentucky students in-state rates, with the Commonwealth providing Auburn the tuition difference.

More than 1,900 contract spaces have been made available and filled with Kentucky students since the program began; and, currently, 38 seats in each 120-member veterinary class are Kentucky students who pay resident tuition and fees. More than half of the Commonwealth’s veterinarians earned their degrees from Auburn. This new program should ensure that Auburn veterinarians continue to meet needs in rural Kentucky for years to come.

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Written by Mitch Emmons,