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Veterinarian Spotlight: Ashley Nelson

Practice: Appalachian Veterinary Services, Inc. in Christiansburg, VA.

Tell us about yourself. I was born and raised in Augusta County, Virginia. I first was involved in agriculture second-hand, watching my grandfather operate a beef cattle operation following the sell-out of our family dairy. I got involved in 4-H at an early age. My first 4-H project included raising, exhibiting and marketing show lambs and hogs. This furthered my interest in livestock production and solidified my lifelong goal of working in the agriculture industry. My 4-H projects morphed into a production herd of Boer goats that my parents still raise today. I was heavily involved with FFA through high school and earned my American Farmer Degree in 2008. I attended Virginia Tech and received my B.S. in Animal and Poultry Sciences in 2011. I remained in Blacksburg for four more years and received my DVM from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2015. In keeping with the agriculture theme, I am married to a beef cattle farmer. Outside of veterinary medicine, I enjoy hiking, kayaking and Hokie football.

What made you become a food animal veterinarian? I learned many valuable lessons from the agriculture industry, 4-H and FFA as a youth. I felt a draw to give back to the industry that gave me so much throughout my childhood. I knew that I wanted a job that allowed me to work with animals and I have always loved problem solving. I am also convinced that there is no better group of folks to work with than farmers. Being a food animal veterinarian seemed to fit.

Favorite part of the job. Variety. I rarely work a day that looks like yesterday. Also, the relationships that are forged through this job. Working with farmers and producers often allows you to develop a relationship that runs much deeper than a client/veterinarian relationship. The folks that we work for truly become your friends.

Toughest part of the job. The toughest part of my job stems from on-call duties. It’s not the being on call itself. In fact, being able to aid a good client in a time of emergency is a gratifying event. It’s the missed opportunities and the strain that this puts on relationships with folks who do not understand why we do what we do. Very few jobs require the odd hours and commitment that comes with being a food animal veterinarian.

Advice for those interested in pursuing a career in food animal medicine. Find a food animal veterinarian and go get in the truck with them. You cannot put a value on the experience that you get riding with a local food animal veterinarian and gaining experience. Vet school will teach you how to talk the talk, riding with experienced veterinarians teaches you how to walk the walk. If you do not have basic farm experience, volunteer for a local farmer or try to get on as paid hired help. It’s imperative to have a basic understanding of the day to day operation of the farms that you intend to work for.

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