K-State College of Veterinary Medicine introduces new initiatives aimed at rural, Indigenous, Native and tribal students

The SPARK program will attempt to address rural vet shortages. (Archive photo by Allen Eyestone | Collegian Media Group)

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State is introducing two new initiatives: the Summer Program for Aspiring Rural Kansas veterinarians and the Specialized Program for the Recruitment of Indigenous, Native and Tribal Students.

Both SPARK and SPRINTS receive funding through the United States Department of Agriculture.

Hana Johnson, recruitment coordinator, said the college initiated SPARK to help bridge the gap between people in veterinary medicine school and those who want to go into rural practice.

“There is a shortage of veterinarians in general, but especially those who want to go into rural practice, and that’s because rural practice is really a lifestyle,” Johnson said.

The SPARK program lets participants shadow veterinarians in rural communities so they can get a firsthand experience of what their potential career may look like. Johnson said a majority of their partner clinics are located in Western Kansas.

“Many of [the veternarians], if not all of them, are alumni of the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the SPARK program is intended for college students getting ready to apply to the veterinary medicine school but is open for anyone who is at least 18 years old.

According to Dr. Callie Rost, assistant dean for admissions, the purpose of both of these grants is to try to serve the needs of the veterinary profession as well as society.

“We recognize the need for rural practitioners and the SPARK grant will expose students to large and mixed animal practice and allow them to visit clinics and learn from veterinary practitioners,” Rost said.

If in-person attendance is unavailable for the summer, the college hopes to have virtual visits with large and mixed-animal practitioners in Kansas to share with participants their way of life and the large variety of practice opportunities available.

In addition to SPARK, the college is introducing SPRINTS for tribal, Native American, or Indigenous students who are in high school and college and are at least 18 years old.

SPARK provides many programs, including transportation and lodging costs for Vet Med ROCKS, the college’s annual summer camp.

“The number of applicants to veterinary programs from the Native, Indigenous and tribal population is extremely low,” Rost said.

National data for race and ethnicity within the veterinary medicine field show that Indigenous, Native, and tribal students among the lowest enrolled populations.

“Knowing that there is a rich native history within the state of Kansas, and even within the Midwest, and knowing that there is a lack of representation of native people within veterinary medicine is another gap we identified and addressed,” Johnson said.

“We recognize that there is a great need to diversify the field and provide connection to people who maybe don’t always see themselves represented in the field of veterinary medicine,” said Johnson. “Even if participants don’t necessarily go on to pursue a DVM, there’s still that opportunity to understand the wide array of career opportunities in animal health.”

“Our goal with the SPRINTS grant is to offer opportunities to learn more about the veterinary profession and the DVM program at KSU College of Veterinary Medicine,” Rost said.

Another goal the college has is to build mentor relationships with CVM Faculty and current DVM students on the K-State campus.

Rost said the university has great opportunities and mentor potential for participants within the Native American Student Body and the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance. Rost said SPARK and SPRINT will hopefully build relations with both of those organizations.

“SPARK and SPRINT participants will gain veterinary experiences as well as aid with application when the time comes,” Rost said. “It would be great to see some successful applications to the DVM program for both of these groups.”

Applications for the SPARK and SPRINTS programs are due May 1.