Balancing Act: Betlach Pursues Ph.D. on Top of Veterinary Career

( Provided by Alyssa Betlach )

Meet Alyssa Betlach, our latest addition to Farm Journal's PORK's Up & Coming Leaders feature. We are showcasing some of the fresh, new voices of the pork industry who combine innovative thought and work ethic with scientific savvy and a passion to make a difference. 

Age: 27
Education: Bachelor’s degree and DVM, University of Minnesota; currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the Veterinary Population Medicine Department at the University of Minnesota
Hometown: Owatonna, MN

Q. How did you become interested in a career in the swine industry?
My interest in the swine industry started in high school when I worked on a 1,500-head sow farm as a farrowing technician. Despite not growing up on a farm or being involved with agriculture, I always knew that I wanted to work with animals. During this opportunity, I gained a passion for swine health and production, and most of all, I became intrigued by the multi-faceted approach to raising pigs. 

Q. Tell us about your internship experiences.
Throughout my undergraduate studies, I continued working as a farrowing technician at the sow farm, where I later transitioned to a 3,000-head sow farm near my hometown. During my veterinary education and training, I interned at both Pig Improvement Company (PIC) and Swine Vet Center (SVC). My time with PIC provided me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of swine genetics, biosecurity and health management related to disease elimination and prevention. I collaborated on a project that assessed the impact of herd closure on M. hyorhinis and M. hyosynoviae prevalence. At SVC, I grew my understanding of swine production, health management and research while interacting directly with producers and their veterinarians. I also conducted a project focused on evaluating the strain diversity of M. hyopneumoniae in several swine flows over time. During my last year of veterinary school, I had externships with Carthage, Pipestone, Purina, Seaboard Foods and Smithfield. 

Q.  Describe any undergraduate research experiences you’ve had.
In undergrad, I developed an interest in veterinary research by working for Dr. Pieters and other swine faculty at the University of Minnesota. The research I participated in mainly focused on the detection and control of Mycoplasmas in swine herds. From that opportunity, I was able to design and lead several projects and present the findings at various local and national conferences. Throughout veterinary school, I continued collaborating on research as I concurrently pursued a master’s degree with an emphasis on M. hyopneumoniae epidemiology and control strategies. In doing so, I was fortunate to help pioneer the development of the flexible DVM/MS program at the U of MN for other veterinary students. 

Q. What other learning opportunities have you been involved in?
I represented my county as a Pork Ambassador, participated as a VetFAST student during undergrad, volunteered at the Miracle of Birth Center during the Minnesota State Fair and shadowed veterinarians during my spare time. 

Q. Tell us about your current research.
I am pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota under the guidance of Dr. Maria Pieters while working as an associate swine veterinarian at SVC. I’m studying M. hyopneumoniae epidemiology and disease control. Several of the research findings have helped guide swine veterinarians on developing accurate surveillance strategies to prevent the introduction of this pathogen in sow farms. My research has also shown the importance of molecular characterizing M. hyopneumoniae strains to aid outbreak investigations by differentiating new introductions from elimination failures.

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