Need for Livestock Vets Continues to Rise
USDA, State Governments and Veterinary Schools Offer Incentives to Encourage Graduates to Serve Rural Populations
The number of veterinarians entering large or food animal practice continues to decline. Market research statistics from the AVMA show that only about 10 percent of veterinarians employed in private clinical practice work predominantly or exclusively with food animals. This veterinarian shortage is nationwide, affecting 44 states. In fact, the USDA reports that nearly 500 U.S. counties are underserved by veterinary care, mostly affecting rural areas.
What is at the root of the decline?
This shift is nothing new. Since 1998, the number of small animal veterinarians has been on the rise, with the number of farm animal veterinarians on the decline. The shortage is becoming more critical as many professionals approach retirement age and fewer students choose to pursue large or mixed animal practice. The need for this specialty remains vital to maintaining a safe food supply, both in the U.S. and internationally. But why are fewer veterinary graduates opting for large animal practice?
The salary disparity between rural mixed animal practices and metro companion animal clinics remains a large factor. Rural practices also require more on-call hours, limiting the work-life balance that is so crucial to younger professionals. The trend of producers purchasing and delivering their own vaccines also limits veterinary calls to emergency or life-threatening situations, furthering the decline of steady business for the rural veterinary practice.
According to a June 2019 article in Successful Farming, other factors contributing to the decline include:
- High student loan debt (AVMA reports student debt at graduation averages $143,000)
- Decreased interest in practice ownership due to large upfront investments and higher risk
- Changes in the agricultural industry such as cattle herd consolidation and larger farm operations
- Fewer veterinary students come from farming or rural backgrounds
- Mixed animal practices positions are harder to fill
What is being done to address the shortage?
In response, several initiatives have been implemented to encourage veterinarians to fill this need. The addition of labor-saving tools has helped reduce the physical demands of large animal practice. Better veterinary school recruitment tactics have helped to reach a broader sampling of students. A heightened focus on disease recognition and prevention has helped to educate practitioners on herd risk management techniques. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation offers several scholarships for veterinary medical education.
The Federal Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program pays up to $25,000 annually toward the student loans of eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in a veterinarian shortage situation, as designated by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, for a period of three years. The 2020 nomination period opened on October 7 and closes November 11, 2019.
The USDA also offers the Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP), designed to support education and extension activities. According to JAVMA, “the program supports two funding categories. Education, Extension and Training projects are open to universities and state, national or regional organizations. Rural Practice Enhancement projects are open to for-profit or nonprofit organizations and practices that wish to operate veterinary clinical services in rural areas designated as having a shortage of veterinarians.” So far, more than $2 million in grants have been awarded.
Several states also offer loan repayment programs, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. The AVMA includes state program summaries and contact information on their website.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges also offers a list of academic institutions that strive to encourage more graduates to enter food animal medicine. Participating universities with incentive programs include Auburn, Colorado State, Cornell, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana State, Michigan State, Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Purdue, Texas A&M, Tufts, Tuskegee, Université de Montréal, University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), University of California, Davis, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Florida, Georgia, University of Guelph/Ontario Veterinary College, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Prince Edward Island/Atlantic Veterinary College, Saskatchewan, Wisconsin, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State and Western University of Health Sciences.
For more infomation, the AVMA offers a list of other scholarship, loan repayment and forgiveness for veterinary medical student loans, as well.
Covetrus North America is dedicated to helping veterinarians grow and thrive in their practices. Visit us online or contact your Covetrus representative at 855.724.3461.
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