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MAKING THE SWITCH
PRACTICING VET MOVES TO DIARY TECHNICAL SERVICE ARENA
Austin Belschner, D.V.M., retired from his private practice 12 years ago and joined Pharmacia Animal Health as dairy program manager for the Dairy Strategic Business Unit.

"I feel like I have one of the best dairy veterinary jobs in the world because I am in a position to help the dairy industry worldwide," says Austin Belschner, D.V.M., and dairy program manager for the Dairy Strategic Business Unit of Pharmacia Animal Health, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Belschner says he sometimes misses the interaction with producers that he experienced during his 12 years as a practicing veterinarian, but he doesn't miss the midnight calls and physical strain of his private practice. He chose to leave this respected role when an opportunity at Pharmacia (formerly Upjohn Animal Health) came looking for him. After several years of consulting for the company, he was asked to take a permanent position as a technical services consultant. Belschner accepted the position and in 1995 was promoted to his current role of dairy program manager.

As a member of the U.S. Dairy Business management team, Belschner works to develop programs to help dairy producers manage healthy and profitable herds. He describes his job as working with sales reps to be the voice of the customer to Pharmacia Animal Health's management team.

"I hate to say that I spend more time in the office than I do on the farm. But the main job of the field veterinarians is to be on the frontline with the customer."

WORK WITH A PURPOSE

When Belschner received his degree in geology from Colgate University in the late '60s, he had plans of being an oceanographer. But after a year at sea as a naval officer, Belschner decided to stay on dry land. He then earned his degree in veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota and later a Master's degree in animal science.

When he began practicing, Belschner was impacting the cows and customers in two counties in northern Wisconsin. Today, he expresses with pride that he and his team are impacting the dairy industry on a global level. He humbly says, "What we do mainly affects the U.S. dairy industry, but much of what we do, in one way or another, gets transferred into our business around the world. We really believe we are making a difference."

Belschner explains that the only drawback to his job is the amount of travel and time away from home, which is typical of most business professionals. "I spend about 50 percent of my time traveling. I love what I do when I get there, but airplanes, airports and hotels - nobody likes that." Fortunately, he says he does enjoy his work once he reaches a destination, which includes speaking nationally and abroad on dairy reproduction, milk and food safety, antibiotic use and abuse, mastitis treatment and prevention strategies, and management of postpartum problems in dairy cows.

DEMAND FOR LARGE-ANIMAL VETS

One of the problems that the industry faces is the difficulty in recruiting food-animal veterinarians, says Belschner. "There just aren't enough students coming out of vet schools to meet the demand of the industry," he explains. "Most want to be a companion-animal vet or work with horses, but few say, 'I want to be a dairy veterinarian.'"

There is definitely a need for large food-animal vets. And of those who choose the large-animal path, Belschner says there will be a continuing need for some of them to work in the agriculture industry in technical service roles. He estimates that there are 25 to 30 technical service veterinarians for Pharmacia Animal Health's U.S. business. And he adds that he is looking forward to expanding the number of veterinarians who will work for the company in the future.

The "Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in the Food and Agricultural Sciences - Agriculture, Natural Resources and Veterinary Sciences for 2000-2005" report issued by Purdue University and USDA backs this up by saying job opportunities will increase for suppliers of food, forest and veterinary medical consumer products and services. The report also claims that veterinary medicine specialists will see a strong employment market through 2005.

Belschner says most field or technical service veterinarians are those who have practical experience - typically a minimum of three to five years' experience.

"The advice I would give interested students is to consider food-animal careers. There are phenomenal opportunities both in terms of income and experience within this segment of the industry," Belschner says. "After doing this for 24 years, I am still extremely excited about the job and the opportunities I face on a daily basis." AM


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