Last week, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced that 187 regions in the United States currently suffer from shortages of livestock and public health veterinarians, including some in Indiana. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) believes that student debt is partly to blame for the shortage. Student debt is making it difficult for young veterinarians to work in rural areas where salaries are typically lower. There is a program that helps alleviate that burden, and the AVMA is urging Congress to expand it. It’s called the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, however, it does not currently receive enough funding to meet the demand.
Dr. Jim Weisman, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Clinical Associate Professor at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, says he talks with students who qualify for the program and encourages them to apply. “The average national education debt for veterinary students is approximately $180,000. I think it’s an essential program by the federal government to help take veterinary medicine to the areas where it’s needed.”
Weisman believes that the shortage may also stem from a student’s upbringing, saying that those who come from strong animal agriculture backgrounds will often want to return to that type of practice. “We see less people coming from rural or farm backgrounds to school, and that starts to decrease the number of people that are looking to do that.”
But Weisman also says he could see a shift in that trend as student affordability remains a major initiative at Purdue University. “I think with student affordability, education affordability, that plays into obtaining post undergrad degrees. So, the professional degree, like the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, (is) usually an 8 year commitment of education. So, student affordability, or educational affordability, certainly opens up doors to folks that perhaps in the past may have taken a different route.”
Weisman also says that there is not a shortage of those enrolling in the school as they had over 1200 applicants for 84 spots in the class of 2022. But the question remains, which area of veterinary practice will those 84, and others who come after, choose.