While the federal government and several states, such as Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and
Texas, are looking at loan repayment legislation for veterinarians who work in rural areas. The efforts will help but won't
solve the problem, alone.
"Financial incentive is a big part of it," says Pappaioanou. "It's required and necessary, but it is not sufficient."
Assuming the financial relief is in place, recruitment practices, special academic programs and practitioner mentors are still
All of these issues currently are being examined at veterinary colleges too. Some, like Kansas State, are introducing loan-repayment
programs in exchange for working in rural areas.
Niches within niches
Life as a rural veterinarian is anything but typical, however.
The Best of the Worst
"One thing that I've learned through my exposure to rural veterinarians while working with the Academy of Rural Veterinarians
(ARV) is that it is very difficult to define a typical rural practice," says Dr. Steve McDonald of Henrietta, Texas. "I have
a colleague in South Texas whose practice area more closely resembles the Third World, yet he makes a very high income. There
is another who has a referral practice that only works on rodeo bulls. There are many small-animal practices in small towns,
reproductive specialists of all species and swine consultants. There are solo practitioners, whom we are told will never survive,
yet they continue to do so."
That doesn't mean the overworked, burnt-out practitioner scenario isn't real. But typically, those veterinarians are not members
of any organization and are not inclined to update their practices, McDonald says.
"We may have a few such veterinarians in our membership, but most of our people are trying to improve their situation and
they tend to resist being stereotyped," he says.
Areas lacking DVMs
Pennsylvania has been especially hard-hit by the shortage, according to state veterinarian Dr. Craig Shultz.
"We have areas in the state where veterinarians who make traditional farm calls are at such a distance, people can't really
get real-time service," he says. "We have a very severe shortage, particularly in northwest Pennsylvania, which is the most
Finding students with a passion and encouraging them is a start.
"We certainly have to ID students who have an interest in those areas," Shultz says. "We need to do something to offset the
very, very high educational costs for these people."
Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson of Texas is working on a loan-forgiveness program there that would encourage graduates to work
in rural areas to erase school debt.
Anderson, a small-animal veterinarian in Waco, Texas, says the shortage is very real in his state.
"The problem is that a lot of these students don't come from rural settings, and a lot are female students who have a tendency
not to go into food-animal practice," Anderson says. While debt-forgiveness legislation already exists in his state, it was
never funded, which is what the new legislation is meant to do.