Starting out: Young vet returns to WyomingWritten by Jennifer Womack
Northeast Wyoming — Rett Scoggin, northeast Wyoming’s newest veterinarian, and his wife Abbra are bringing a youthful presence to the ranches they’ve begun visiting this fall as part of their new veterinary business.
Scoggin, raised on a ranch 25 miles north of Hulett, is a graduate of Hulett High School. He recently returned to the area after spending four years studying veterinary medicine at Colorado State University and completing an internship at Oakridge Equine Hospital in Oklahoma. While in Oklahoma he met his wife Abbra, a native of the Shawnee, Okla. area. Abbra, who was a technician at Oakridge Equine Hospital, has a degree in business management and works side-by-side with Rett.
Following graduation from the University of Wyoming in 2000 with a degree in Animal Science, Scoggin returned to northeast Wyoming where he worked a variety of jobs. He was a heavy equipment mechanic in Gillette, trucked cattle with long-time friend Josh Franzen and worked in a feedlot in Greeley, Colo. “I needed a break from the intense studying following completion of my bachelor degree.” says Scoggin “I didn’t apply to vet school for three years.”
In the winter before entry into vet school, Scoggin found himself in Jeffrey City working as an oiler and a mechanic for a Gillette-based construction company. Earlier that fall he’d applied for vet school, but hadn’t fully made up his mind whether or not to attend if accepted. The winter cold eased the decision making process.
“It takes four years,” says Scoggin of vet school. “After graduation, I accepted a position in Oklahoma at an equine surgical referral center.” According to the Oakridge Equine Hospital website, interns at the facility see an average of 150 cases per week. It’s estimated that interns at the facility see what would take three to five years working at a typical clinic.
“You have a tremendous amount of medical knowledge once you graduate from vet school, but you are still relatively naïve when it comes to putting that knowledge into practice,” says Scoggin. “That first six months, especially in a high case load clinic like Oakridge, you really develop your diagnostic skills and learn how to practice the science of medicine,” says Scoggin.
Scoggin is hopeful his experience at Oakridge will earn the interest of equine industry customers. “The main reason I wanted that experience was to feel confident I had the knowledge necessary to handle those types of cases for clients in the performance horse industry,” he says. From diagnosing the cause of lameness to treating performance-limiting internal medicine issues, it’s a skill set he hopes to apply through future work.
The internship ended in June and Rett and Abbra began making plans to move back to the Cowboy State.
“It takes the right type of person,” says Scoggin of working as a vet. When it comes to working with large animals, or running a food animal practice, he says, “You have to really love the business or industry you’re working for. The best part is putting the knowledge gained in veterinary school to use helping producers increase profit.”
He says the largest challenge involves the cost of a veterinary education. “It’s expensive to keep a university veterinary program operating,” says Scoggin. “It’s difficult to operate those programs as a profit-making business, they’re research institutions. Deficits in their budget need to be filled somewhere. A portion not met with research grants or donations, is filled by student tuition.” Scoggin says the average veterinary student leaves with $120,000 in student loans.
Wyoming’s vet loan repayment program was part of the reason he chose to return to Wyoming. “I knew if we were going to come back to fulfill a need in this portion of the country, we’d need to catch a break somewhere,” he says. “That program opened the door to come back. It’s still difficult, but we can make it work.” While he and Abbra are currently living in Beulah and working out of the back of their pickup, they’re also looking at purchasing a northeast Wyoming vet clinic. Such a move would allow them to care for small animals, a service that’s important to the financial bottom-line for most veterinarians.
Scoggin says he was one of few students in his vet school classes who had an agricultural background. “Out of 130 students there might have been a handful,” he says. With the aging population of ranchers, vets and others involved in ag, he adds, “It’s tough. There is a lot of medical knowledge to be learned in vet school, but there isn’t time to teach the realities of production animal agriculture. Students need to come in with that knowledge in place to fully understand a veterinarian’s role in this industry.” He’d like to see a reduction in the costs associated with the education and a stronger recruitment of people with an agricultural background.
Holding licenses in Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota, and soon Montana, Scoggin says, “We’re trying to offer service to northeast Wyoming, western South Dakota and southeastern Montana.”