Question and Answer Session with Dr. Carie Telgen, DVM, and Technical Services Veterinarian for Diamond V.
At some point during childhood, most farm kids dream of being a veterinarian and for some, that dream actually becomes a reality. For Dr. Carie Telgen, DVM, that dream started when she was 6 years old. Dr. Telgen was a practicing veterinarian in the capital region of New York State for 12.5 years. Today, she now works as a veterinary consultant to farms throughout New York, New England, and Pennsylvania.
Some of you may have been lucky enough to meet Dr. Telgen as she is one of our amazing volunteer veterinarians at the Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair. We asked Dr. Telgen to give us a little insight into her life as a veterinarian so we can all better understand and appreciate what veterinarians do every day to help dairy farmers across New York State.
1. Why did you become a veterinarian?
I grew up on a dairy farm, and I remember seeing my first Displaced Abomasum* surgery that was performed by our veterinarian when I was about 6 years old. I was stuck to my dad’s side the entire time, captivated by what was going on. From then on, I said that I wanted to become a veterinarian and perform these types of surgeries to help the animals that needed it.
2. What education do you need to become a veterinarian?
To become a veterinarian, there are certain prerequisites that you need. Some include organic chemistry, physics, genetics, etc. You can really have any undergraduate major you choose, as long as you fulfill the specific veterinary school prerequisites. Application to veterinary school can be done once you have completed your pre-requisites and a standardized test. Veterinary school is a 4-year program and you may pass all your veterinary classes, but you also are required to pass the National Board Exam and your state licensing exam before you are truly able to get your license to practice. If you chose to specialize, such as going on to be a Veterinary Surgeon or Internal Medicine Specialist, for example, you would need to have an additional 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency following your 4 years of veterinary school. Veterinary Medicine is becoming more and more specialized. There are veterinary cardiologists, oncologists, surgeons, behaviorists, and the list goes on. The neat thing about Veterinary Medicine is that you are still a doctor and can practice after 4 years of school, which is a little different than human doctors, but if you want to go on and specialize, you can!
3. What did a “typical” day as a veterinarian look like for you?
I usually woke up around 5 or 5:30 am and was on a farm by 7 or 8 in the morning, depending on the day. Most of my time on the farm was checking to see which cows were pregnant or not. During this time, I also had the opportunity to chat with the owner or herdsperson to see what else is happening on the dairy; if there were any concerns, questions, or changes that I should be aware of. I would then check any sick cows that the herdsperson or owner had noticed over the last day or so in order to treat their individual needs.
Once finished at one farm, I would then check in with the office to see if any other farmers had called in to let us know of a sick animal. One neat thing about veterinary medicine is that cows don’t have to wait to see their doctor. If the farmer notices a cow that isn’t feeling well, she will be seen within a couple of hours. Unlike human medicine where you may have to wait several days to several weeks to be seen, cows get the same daycare, 365 days a year. Once any other sick cows were taken care of, I usually went back to the office and worked on paperwork for the clients or the business.
4. How do you keep up-to-date with the changes in veterinary medicine?
To maintain my license, I am required to take continuing education credits. Most veterinarians will attend various conferences and meetings to receive these credits. Cattle veterinarians are very fortunate in that we have a worldwide network made up of experts in every field of cattle veterinary medicine. Every year, there is a conference where many of these experts and practicing veterinarians come together, learn from each other and receive our continuing education credits.
5. Explain how you work alongside your clients every day.
In my new role as a consulting veterinarian, I still get to work with farmers most days. Instead of being on the farm checking for pregnancies, I now get asked to step in if they are having some issues on the farm that they would like another set of eyes to assess. I may be called in by their regular herd veterinarian or by their nutritionist.
In either case, I get to visit the farm, ask lots of questions about what normally happens on the dairy, and what is happening now. Oftentimes, once I have visited the dairy, I have to go back home and write up a report that I will then discuss with the client if I didn’t already do so at the farm. I also will discuss my report with those on the management team that asked me to visit.
6. From your perspective, what is the biggest misconception in the agriculture industry today?
The biggest misconception is that farmers don’t care - that couldn’t be further from the truth! I would be hard-pressed to find any other profession where someone works 365 days a year and puts their own needs and wants aside to make sure that the animals are fed, have a roof over their head, and are comfortable. As a daughter of a farmer, my dad never made it to any of my soccer, basketball, or softball games until my very last year of high school. The games ALWAYS started during chore time, and it just wasn’t an option. There are sacrifices that every family makes so that the animals are cared for. We didn’t get to open Christmas presents until the morning chores were done. We didn’t eat supper until 7 or 8 at night when the evening chores were done.
Farmers spend so much of their time and energy caring for their animals, their employees, and their land. There is often little time left for much else. That to me is an incredible living example of an industry that truly does care about what they are doing and whom they are doing it for.
7. How do consumers impact your job and how does what you do every day impact consumers?
Consumers impact my job more indirectly than directly. Consumers buy my clients’ products in the form of milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream. If there is no market for my client's products, then my clients would be out of business and there would be no need for me to be a veterinarian. My role on the farm week in and week out is to make sure the products consumers are buying are safe, and the cows producing these products are well cared for. If there is any type of medicine residue found in any of the products shipped off the farm, it comes back on not only the farmer but on the veterinarian prescribing those medications. This is why all veterinarians and farmers take such care in making sure that the milk leaving the farm is truly safe for consumers and not contaminated in any way.
8. What is the biggest challenge that you have to overcome as a veterinarian?
One of the challenges of being a cattle veterinarian is how the industry is shifting as a whole. The dairy industry is consolidating and farmers have to be the best at what they do to stay competitive and sustainable for the future. Most farmers these days have a college education and are constantly looking at ways to improve their business with different efficiencies and technologies. Long gone are the days of Dr. James Harriet. Many of the employees on the farm can do basic treatments of cattle.
As a veterinarian, we are finding ourselves more and more in the consulting role of the dairy. This forces us to stay up-to-speed on the different regulations that agriculture is put under and shift our skillset to better serve the client. Veterinarians are still performing surgeries and checking for pregnancies, helping with difficult calvings, etc but, now we are also trained to analyze, evaluate and problem solve with farm teams. This is how veterinarians reach a diagnosis on a sick animal, but it is also applicable to other issues on the farm, such as employee management, records evaluation, protocol development, and overall herd health issues.
Although shifting our skillset and utilizing our training differently is a challenge, it also is an opportunity to work more closely with our clients as an advisor and a member of the team that is working for the overall benefit of the client and his animals.
9. If you could tell consumers one thing about New York State agriculture, what would it be?
New York Agriculture is more than just dairy cattle. Wineries, breweries, apple production, egg production, pork production are all aspects of New York agriculture that make this state so diverse. Even within all these industries, there are multiple different production systems that provide further diversity. The multitude of choices allows consumers, from every background the opportunity to have access to a variety of safe and affordable products that are ultimately produced with the consumer in mind.
10. Since you’re no longer practicing veterinary medicine, what are you doing now to stay involved in animal agriculture?
I am still very involved in agriculture as a consulting veterinarian, I just don’t beat my body up as much anymore! What I am doing daily is still helping farmers be as successful as possible now, to later pass their farm on to the next generation if they so choose. I also am still involved in other areas of agriculture, including being a Farm Bureau Member, a committee member of the NY Animal Agriculture Coalition - NYAAC, and I am still on the Executive committee for our National Cattle Veterinarians Association- AABP.
11. How did your work as a veterinarian affect the work that you are currently doing?
Having 12.5 years as a private practice veterinarian has given me a tremendous skill set. It takes time to understand how dairies operate, what the constraints on the dairies are, and the practicality of the recommendation that I want to give. The experience of interacting with farmers, cattle, and others in the agriculture industry as a private practicing veterinarian has allowed me to be well informed and experienced as a consulting veterinarian working with farms across the Northeast.
*Displaced Abomasum in cattle occurs when the abomasum (one of the four bovine stomach compartments), also known as the true stomach, fills with gas and rises to the top of the abdomen causing digestive issues and discomfort for the animal.