Three questions for … Western’s Theo Derksen

With the new academic year begins a news series of profiles on veterinary students. We opened our lecture series at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine, where I met Theo Derksen, class of 2021. His interest? Poultry medicine! That’s something I don’t write much about, so I thought he’d be an interesting student to profile.

Will you please share something unexpected that you discovered or learned on your path into to veterinary medicine?

My path to veterinary medicine started when I got my first chickens when I was 10 years old. Through my time with 4-H and my Master’s Degree research I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of backyard chicken owners.

One thing that I find surprising about most of the chicken owners that I have met is that they don’t use any form of biosecurity. Not only can wild birds transfer but as owning chickens becomes more popular there is a chance for disease to spread by accidental contact.

This is not to say, however, that chicken owners do not care about their pets but rather that it is something that owners don’t think about commonly since it’s different from cats and dogs. The simplest form of biosecurity that backyard owners could use is wearing shoes for being around their chickens and nowhere else. The reason for this is to not bring in any potential diseases from the outside world, that could easily encounter at a feed store, into a healthy chicken coop.

What is your vision for the future of veterinary medicine and how does it influence the way you’re preparing to enter the field?

Derksen, Theodore- Chicken on ShoulderWorking in the food animal industry, I see a future with much more public input into the way animals are raised. This can already be seen in California with the passage and implementation of Proposition 2, which among other things increased the amount of space per laying hen in a cage. This shift in the way chickens are raised as also given rise to more cage-free systems and pastured poultry. My ideal vision would be for veterinarians who work in the field to have a greater input in the legislation that is being passed for these industries. This will require veterinarians to be more proactive when reaching out to the general public to gain ideas of consumer demand. As the industry shifts to new cage systems it will also require veterinarians to be more inventive in how to make these new systems work in what has been thought of as poultry medicine for decades.

Personally, I plan to prepare for this change in cage system and want of the public to have a greater say by first working on my communication skills. Many times, when people think of the way veterinarians communicate it is on a one-to-one basis with owners, but I will need to be prepared to speak, and listen, at large community gatherings to gain insight to what the public wants.

I also plan to study some of the older diseases of poultry which have not been seen in the United States since the implementation of caged laying hen operations but were commonly seen before there were such strict biosecurity measures. With all of this in mind I hope to help create poultry products that meet consumer demand while making sure the animals live their best lives.

Can you tell us one thing about yourself that would surprise your veterinary colleagues?

Instead of attending Cornell University for my B.S., I was debating attending a branch of the Culinary Institute of America to train to become a chef. I have always had a passion for cooking and experimenting with new recipes.

However, I decided that veterinary medicine is my true calling and decided to start the path that has brought me to Western.

I have not let my education get in the way of my cooking passion however as it has given rise to a tradition of “Pizza Friday” in my house where I invite friends over, and I cook various kinds of pizza, the best being buffalo chicken, and we destress after long weeks. I believe that my passion for cooking has given me a greater investment into the poultry industry as I want to make sure that everyone has access to safe poultry products.

Thank you, Theo, for a very interesting interview! You’re going to invite us all over to dinner soon, aren’t you?