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Veterinarians needed for animals that produce food

May 25, 2010|By JEFF SEMLER

Regular readers of my column know that I often discuss threats to agriculture. You have heard me mention urban encroachment, low farm gate prices, over regulation by government and unreasonable neighbors, but I bet you never thought today's topic was a threat.

What is this threat, you say?

Veterinarians, or the lack of veterinarians for animals that produce food, to be exact.

I should define the term food animal vet. I mean large, animal vets with the exception of equine practitioners. While they do treat a large animal, the horse, at least in the U.S., the horse is not considered a food animal.

This subject isn't just in my imagination.

Over the past three years, numerous news outlets have discussed the topic.

I am not just talking about news releases from the American Veterinary Medical Association. I am talking about such heavy hitters as CNN and USA Today.

However, in the association's own words, "The profession is facing a shortage of food animal veterinarians in the public, private, industrial and academic sectors, and the problem is on the rise. Fewer food animal-oriented students are entering veterinary schools, fewer graduates are entering food animal practice and too many veterinarians are leaving food animal practice."

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What is contributing to this shortage?

There are many reasons, and here are but a few.

The increased numbers of females entering vet school. Now before some feminist goes ballistic, hear me out. The facts bear out, like it or not, but women who choose vet medicine as a career overwhelming choose to focus their practice on horses or pets.

It does not make it wrong or bad, it's just their preference.

Another reason is the fact that many vet school grads choose to practice on pets regardless of their gender. The reasons are obvious; pet owners make decisions based on emotions and farmers make decisions based on economics. I am not implying nor inferring that small animal vets are scalawags, they just meet the needs and wants of their customers.

Another reason small animal medicine is attractive is the owner brings the animal to you. When you make farm calls, you never know what you might find. And while many farmers have adequate facilities to treat animals, I have heard more than one story of a vet attempting to treat an animal tied to a post or worse.

Lastly, it is widely believed that small animal vets make more money and thus vet grads can pay off their student loans more quickly.

Yes, I did say student loans. Some vet school grads graduate with as much as $100,000 in debt. According to the association, while starting salaries for small animal vets are higher by year 10, the salary levels are very similar.

So is there a plan to help stem the tide?

Yes, there is - it is the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.

The program will pay up to $25,000 each year toward qualified educational loans of eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in a National Institute of Food and Agriculture designated veterinarian shortage situation for a period of three years.

Hopefully, this will add to the depleted ranks of our food animal vets. And if you are an aspiring vet and are interested in finding out more, give me a call.

Until next time, enjoy the spring.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu">jsemler@umd.edu

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