Veterinary Student Taking Poultry Medicine To A New Degree
As both a Texas A&M Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and poultry science Ph.D. candidate, Nikolas Faust is on a mission to improve poultry health and welfare while also feeding the world.
Like most students who dream of becoming a veterinarian, Faust intended to start his DVM upon his undergraduate graduation. However, when his initial application to veterinary school was rejected, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in poultry science. His second application for vet school was a success, but his poultry science research was still underway.
Rather than abandon his master’s research, Faust worked with his faculty mentor in the poultry science department, leadership in the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS), and the Texas A&M Graduate and Professional School to expand his master’s research into a Ph.D. program.
Doing so has allowed Faust to work on his research during the first couple of summers between his DVM classes so that he can simultaneously complete both degrees.
While Faust’s simultaneous pursuit of degrees is rare, as he’s only the third person to pursue both a poultry science Ph.D. and a DVM at once, his academic success is driven by his desire to feed the world and is rooted in his passion for poultry science.
“I come from a family that loves to feed people, and poultry is the most consumed protein in the world,” he explained. “I feel that the impact I can make through poultry production medicine has the most applicability around the globe.”
Faust began his academic journey at Texas A&M University as an undergraduate student in the Department of Poultry Science after graduating from Snook High School.
“I knew I wanted to go to vet school in high school, but I also knew how selective the DVM program at Texas A&M is,” Faust recalled. “So, when a recruiter from the poultry science department gave a presentation and said they have 100% job placement, I was sold on the department. I thought that if vet school didn’t work out, I’d have a good backup plan. Then after I was at Texas A&M for a year or two, I picked up animal science as a double major to strengthen my vet school application.”
After submitting his first application for the DVM program, he learned that his GPA needed to be improved and that his application could be more competitive by gaining more experience in his focus area.
“When I didn’t get into vet school the first time around, I thought a master’s degree in poultry science was the logical next step,” Faust said. “My goal, initially, was to strengthen my next application while also gaining a solid career choice if my next vet school application received the same result.”
Faust chose to focus his graduate research on improving flock welfare by enhancing dietary satisfaction. The goal of his research is to investigate a method to increase the feeling of satisfaction that birds feel from their meals, thus improving their welfare and quality of life in a broiler, or chicken raised for meat, breeder production system, he explained.
“Just like people, birds like to eat foods beyond what they need nutritionally to survive and grow. Like many other domesticated species, if given the opportunity, poultry will overconsume to obesity,” Faust explained. “Also like people, when their food intake is restricted to combat obesity and its comorbidities, birds have a tendency to become stressed and agitated. This desire to consume combined with feeding programs required for broiler breeders to meet production goals has the potential to infringe on overall welfare.
“My research hones in on the idea that if we find a way to bolster satisfaction with the feed that keeps them healthy and productive, then we can improve their overall welfare and quality of life.”
After working with his faculty mentor to progress his research, Faust decided to apply to vet school again. He didn’t expect to be accepted with his second application but was pleasantly surprised when he received an acceptance letter.
“When I got in earlier than expected, I was really excited,” Faust shared. “I knew I wanted to pursue my DVM, but I didn’t want to give up my research in poultry science. Thankfully, faculty from both schools came together to help develop a plan for me to convert my master’s degree into a Ph.D. so that I could finish my research and vet school simultaneously. Now I have a village of support across both entities. With my poultry science department faculty mentor, Dr. Rosemary Walzem, leading the charge as I continue my research, and the DVM professional programs office promoting my best interest in the DVM program, I know that success in both fields is only a matter of time.”
Faust said his Ph.D. will support his veterinary aspirations upon completion of both degrees in 2025 because each degree program complements the other and will make him a better poultry veterinarian upon graduation. His DVM training will allow him to practice veterinary medicine on the flocks under his care, while his Ph.D. research will help him identify and investigate new potential improvements for flock welfare practices.
Faust also hopes to use what he’s learning in both degree programs to promote sustainability within the poultry industry by improving flock health and preserving production through ethical methods that also improve welfare, health, and overall quality of life.
“My overall goal after graduating from vet school is to complete a poultry residency program,” Faust said. “After that, I hope to become board certified in general poultry medicine with a food animal focus. I want to work with companies in the poultry industry to help maintain commercial flocks and keep feeding the world.”