The State of Rural Veterinary Medicine

Hoard's Dairyman: 

The State of Rural Veterinary Medicine

Date: 
Sat, 07/02/2011

For many years, we have heard about the shortage of veterinarians willing to practice in the agricultural industry. Recruitment was stepped up, publicity grew in industry circles, and scholarship and loan forgiveness programs were started, all focusing on veterinary students interested in large-animal practice.

The good news is it worked. Recently, the American Association of Bovine Practioners (AABP) appointed an ad hoc committee to determine the status of the large-animal veterinary job market. The committee unearthed some interesting information. There is no shortage of veterinarians for rural food animal veterinary private practice, according to the ad hoc committee. This news was credited to the push made by several organizations to promote large-animal medicine.

But, there were quite a few unsettling points the committee noted. There is still a perception that there still is a shortage of large-animal veterinarians, and that has led to increased class sizes at established universities and even the creation of new veterinary schools. This could lead to a dangerously large number of veterinary school graduates applying for a significantly smaller number of job openings, meaning widespread unemployment.

What seems to be the larger problem is the challenge of practicing profitable rural veterinary medicine in areas where farm numbers have declined, farms are allowing employees to perform diagnostics or even operations on their own, and growing input costs that have restricted farmers’ abilities to request and pay for services.

In addition, the rising cost of college has increased student debt loads after graduation. In many cases, they have no option but to charge more for their services in order to pay for costs of living and paying loans. Also, many rural veterinarians practice alone. In some cases there are limited opportunities for mentorship, no one to share emergency duty with causing inflexible work hours . . . all things younger veterinarians shy away from. These factors lead to open positions in the most rural areas, eventually leading to a practice closing its doors. The problem does not lie in the number of large animal veterinarians, but in the location, types of jobs, and potential salary.