Necessary vet studies costly (Editorial)

(May 2, 2016) With another round of applications for our American Farm Publications Scholarship evaluated, it is at once exciting to see so many young students pursuing agricultural careers and heartbreaking that we are not able to give each an award toward their education.
The high cost of attending a four-year university is daunting for many farm families and too often a determining factor in a student and his or her family’s decision making.
This high cost is no more evident than in students’ pursuing a veterinarian degree, which are typically a large portion of our annual pool of applications and were no different this year.
No doubt an enormous commitment of time and money, the consistent interest in veterinary medicine and animal science fields is encouraging and necessary considering the sustained shortage of large animal veterinarians across the United States.
According to USDA, 42 states have designated shortage situations of varying degrees, from “moderate” to “critical,” and in the Mid-Atlantic region, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have shortages.
In New Jersey the need is deemed critical in Sussex, Warren and Mercer counties.
Virginia has a critical shortage in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott and Wise counties and moderate shortages in three areas: Bland, Smyth and Tazewell counties; Patrick County; and Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties.
To help on both fronts, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has administered the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program since 2003.
The program offers educational loan repayment agreements to veterinarians who agree to provide veterinary services in veterinarian shortage situations for a determined period of time.
If new veterinarians commit to at least three years to providing veterinary services in a designated veterinary shortage area, serving beef cattle and small ruminants, dairy cattle, swine or poultry, NIFA can repay up to $25,000 of your student loan debt per year.
The application period closes May 20. For more information, visit
Aside from absorbing a sizeable chunk of their student loan debt, the program places skilled animal doctors where they are needed most which helps improve animal health.
“Many people don’t realize that veterinarians are critical to America’s food safety and food security,” Dr. Richard Wilkes, Virginia state veterinarian said. “Many farmers face a critical shortage of veterinarians, and this loan award program is designed to give assistance to veterinarians so they can help improve the health of livestock and ensure a safe food supply in shortage areas.”
For many veterinarians who participate, the program likely puts them in areas and situations they may not otherwise find themselves, stretching their comfort zone and sharpening their abilities.
The jobs in these shortage areas aren’t generally attractive positions.
If they were, there’d be no shortage.
But the experience could be rewarding to the new veterinarians far beyond what it repays to their school loan debt.