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In the trenches
Studies might reveal trends, but personal experience is the most eye-opening insight to rural vet shortage


"It's nice when you have the great facilities to work cattle, but a lot of times, somebody didn't even have a stock trailer or a chute, then you're more prone to getting hurt. One of our equine instructors said 'If you get a 1,000-pound horse that wants to get in a pissing contest with you, it doesn't matter how strong you are,'" Dorman says. The key is knowing how to handle larger animals. "Ultimately, even for the biggest, strongest guy, the animal is still a lot bigger and stronger than they are. I'm almost regretting having done large-animal because of the problems I have now, but I do miss it."

But for some, even in the younger generation, the hard labor of large-animal practice is an attraction, not a deterrent. Taking criticisms based on gender isn't something younger generations may take in stride, either.

"For me, it is not really an issue and never has been. Maybe there are clients who choose to go other places because I am female, but that is their problem, not mine," says Dr. Nora Ditmars, 30, who works at a mixed-animal practice in Fairbury, Neb. "We are plenty busy. I have yet to find a time when size and strength prevented me from getting the job done. I suppose there may be at some point...that I have to do a C-section because I needed six more inches on my arm, but I have yet to encounter (that situation). One advantage to being small is that the wear and tear on my arm from pregnancy checking heifers is significantly less."

"I don't even know many 250-pound guys who will mess with a 2,000-pound bull," Ditmars adds with a laugh.

Working under the tutelage of a seasoned rural practitioner and having had many mentors who taught her "how not to get hurt," helped Ditmars embrace her chosen career with fervor.

"People have to go into rural practice because they like it and not for any other reason. To quote a friend of mine, 'It's a lifestyle, not a job.' The less people there are, the happier I am. I definitely prefer open spaces, and that's just my personality," she says. "I think there's a big difference between being in rural practice and being a solo practitioner. I have the big advantage of having every other Sunday off during calving season and every other weekend the rest of the year. Sometimes, people confuse the issue of being a solo practitioner with being a rural practitioner."

One challenge in rural practice, Ditmars believes, is making enough money — and the increased availability of animal drugs from third-party sellers doesn't help, she says.

"I can't tell them to buy it from me when they can buy it $3 cheaper somewhere else," Ditmars says. But if a practitioner isn't making money off drug sales, they need to make it up with higher charges for their services.

"Long-term, it doesn't matter how many people you recruit who want to practice, if it doesn't work economically, it's not going to happen," Ditmars says.

But these days, it's hard to make a living working in rural America, especially with the student debt load many new veterinarians carry.

"You can't afford to go into a rural practice and pay that debt back," Ditmars says, adding she worked through school and was able to graduate with minimal debt, but many of her classmates were not so lucky.

"I think the only way to increase the number of people in rural practice is to give students experience working in a rural setting," Ditmars says. "Some are going to like it and some are going to hate it."

"I really don't think I'd be happy doing something other than this. Every time I look at a practice that's less than 50 percent large animal, I don't think I'd like it — I know I wouldn't like it. I'll probably do this forever, provided I'm able to."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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