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Desperate search for rural DVMs

Small-town America pleads for practitioners
Apr 01, 2007


Wide-open field: Carol Couture fears for the health of her eight horses considering the area's limited access to veterinary care. The shortage translates to job opportunities for new graduates.
COLEBROOK, N.H. — Despite warnings describing the shortage of large-animal veterinarians as acute, new graduates continue to steer clear of what's arguably the profession's neediest segment.

In 2006, just 5.3 percent of approximately 2,600 U.S. veterinary graduates went into large-animal practice, American Veterinary Medical Association numbers show. Few people are more aware of that than equine owners like Carol Couture, who's been forced to administer lay veterinary care in the absence of a local DVM.


Campaigning for vets: New Hampshire resident Chris Brady lost a horse to colic and is lobbying for educational subsidies to attract DVMs to the area.
Like many of Couture's horse-owning neighbors in New Hampshire's Great North Woods, access to veterinary care remains a remote luxury. Colebrook, a town of 2,500 residents, sits 17 miles from Maine, roughly one mile from Vermont and 13 miles from the Canadian border. With the nearest practice three hours away, she's been forced to shoot her animals in emergency situations.

"If they go down, you have no one," she says. "Nothing breaks your heart more than to be so damn helpless. I'll pay whatever it takes. I don't want my animals to have to suffer."

The 30-year resident's situation turned dire a few years ago when the town's practitioner retired and moved to the coast, creating a deficiency that organized veterinary medicine considers far from unique. In nearly 20 years, the number of large animal veterinarians has dropped to fewer than 4,500 in the United States, representing less than 10 percent of the nation's private practitioners, AVMA reports.

Yet as experts track the growing shortage, animal owners live it. If they're not already desperate for veterinary care, the rural residents across the country hang on to their aging DVMs by a thread.

Fellow Colebrook resident Kathi Raymond uses a veterinary service more than two hours away.

"We don't have anyone to do farm calls. All you can do is baby and doctor the ani-mal and then probably end up shooting the cow," she says.

Spread thin

Dr. Andy Krause knows that's a reality. The North Haverhill practitioner admits the lack of access is a "sore subject," but 70-hour workweeks and farm calls that often reach five hours roundtrip make visiting Colebrook more than twice a month a near-impossibility.

The situation only gets worse further north, he says.

"Days are long and the work is hard. Sometimes I get up, and I don't want to do it either. Life would be a lot easier if I were in a big practice in California with a bunch of other veterinarians. But I feel a loyalty to these people, so I do what I can. It's no secret that they are faced with putting their own animals down here."