The movement is taking its toll on the numbers of veterinarians practicing in rural America, too. According to American Veterinary
Medical Association (AVMA) data, about 63 percent of the 63,259 actively employed U.S. veterinarians work in private practice
treating small animals exclusively. The rest of the numbers stack up differently — small animal predominant, 11.8 percent;
mixed animal, 8.3 percent; large animal predominant, 5.9 percent; equine, 4.7 percent; large animal exclusive, 4 percent;
and other species, 1.1 percent.
Attitudes about treating large animals have changed as well. An AVMA survey of graduates says 25 percent are willing to devote
at least part-time work to large animals, while 10 years ago the number was closer to 36 percent.
The shortage is so bad in rural America that some practitioners are resorting to building new clinics in an attempt to snare
Hiring veterinarians to work in his area isn't measured in months, but in years, Hensley says.
He and his partner, who manages another practice in a neighboring community, have been looking for an associate veterinarian
for three years. Some practices in the area have been in the hunt for the last five years.
Hensley's reality isn't uncommon; there's no one behind them to pick up slack or new work.
"I look at it in different ways. If I ever get to the point where I am a solo practitioner, I'd like someone there to service
my clients. We provide quality and timely service. What worries me is what if I want to leave for even a weekend, who is going
to service these clients?" While retirement is far off for the middle-aged father of three, Hensley wants a return on his
investment. The reality is that if this trend isn't abated, some retiring veterinarians might be forced to simply close their
doors, a worst-case scenario that would also leave a void in coverage to communities.
Challenges in recruiting veterinary students to move into the country seem almost insurmountable — lower wages, incoming female
veterinary students are choosing small animal practice, not as many veterinary students have agricultural backgrounds, farms
continue to consolidate, and there is a lot of drive time.
But there is freedom in the country, and it's a lifestyle Hensley is gladly giving to his children.
"This is where I want my children to grow up." He adds that many of the people in his community are also good friends — lifelong
For Hensley, the toughest part of his job is not getting "run-over by cow," bitten by a dog or even stitched up by his partner
on occasion; it's actually charging his clients.
"I am friends with most of my clients. It's hard for me to charge them," he says. "I try to manage people's money for them.
I know that I shouldn't, but when you know everybody, you start thinking about their dollars, too. I would love to work for
this community and not have to charge anything, but it just doesn't work that way."
Hensley has no regrets. While every day brings small "victories and failures," he recognizes he is a respected and trusted
"Our clients trust us. They trust our opinion, and they depend on us to make their decisions. You may not find that in urban