Bill introduced to ease veterinarian shortage in public health, rural areas

Aug 01, 2009

Filling the gap: The proposed Veterinary Public Health Education and Workforce Act would help colleges recruit more students and expand facilities. (PHOTO: SIRI STAFFORD/GETTY IMAGES)
WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would create a new Division of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health at the federal level and invest monies to help solve work-force shortages in government and food-animal markets.

"This legislation highlights the critical role veterinarians in public and private practice have in public health, and it recognizes the need for federal investment in bolstering the veterinary work force, which is on the front lines of public health, food safety and animal health," says Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) chief executive officer.

The Veterinary Public Health Education and Workforce Act (VPHEWA) would offer a competitive grant program to schools of veterinary medicine, allowing them to use the funds for faculty recruitment, physical expansion or curriculum development. It also would create a new fellowship program within the Department of Health and Human Services, allowing fellows to be placed throughout the network of federal agencies that employ veterinarians. Finally, the legislation would create a new Division of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health at the Health Resources and Services Administration, ensuring that this work force receives federal attention.

A February 2009 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report revealed a dire shortage of veterinarians in public health care.

Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and veterinarian Dr. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) introduced the VPHEWA in an effort to protect public health.

"Veterinarians are a critical component to the health of our country," Schrader says. "They not only provide care to our pets but also are crucial to the protection of our food supply and overall public health. This measure will help encourage more students to enter the veterinary profession and provide more professional veterinarians for local communities."

The AVMA worked with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) to get the legislation introduced.

The bill has been referred to the energy and commerce committee, where Pallone, Baldwin and Murphy are members.