Governor pledges $500,000 to ease rural vet shortage
JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation at press time to create the Large Animal Veterinary Student Loan Program and wants to earmark $500,000 to pay for it.
It's the latest effort by a state government to tackle what's been dubbed a nationwide manpower drought in large-animal veterinary medicine.
The state now joins at least six others addressing what the American Veterinary Medical Association's Adrian Hochstadt, JD, CAE, describes as a "real hot issue" for lawmakers trying to deal with areas underserved by the profession's migration from small-town farm service to urban small-animal practice.Most efforts are designed to provide education loan repayment incentives for new graduates to practice in rural areas for a contractual number of years.
The Missouri action follows programs in Maine, Louisiana, Ohio, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Kansas, according to AVMA. Similar bills are pending in New York and Wisconsin, confirms Hochstadt, assistant director state regulatory and legislative affairs.
"This is the No. 1 issue for state legislators who contact us," he says. "We offer them samples of model legislation and tell them what's already out there."
In the field
Currently under way are an Ohio education repayment program that is offered to more than just the state's veterinary students and a plan to require the University of Tennessee's veterinary college to grant admissions preference to applicants with agriculture backgrounds or those interested in food-animal medicine.
Oklahoma is retooling a failed tax-break proposal for food-animal practitioners while Illinois lawmakers, prompted by the state veterinary medical association and University of Illinois, are talking about creating a student incentive system.
Missouri's new law is designed to create a "corps of young, talented veterinarians ready to serve family farmers in undeserved areas across the state, helping to ensure that the next generation of Missouri's family farmers has the veterinary resources available to continue our state's agricultural tradition," Gov. Blunt announced last month on his Web site.
Trumping the federal efforts
Such efforts go beyond what's being done at federal levels despite organized veterinary medicine's push to create nationwide food-animal practitioner incentives. Missouri's new law comes just $250,000 shy of allocations tied to the National Veterinary Medical Services Act — a program originally designed to repay the education debt of rural veterinarians across the country. Due to a bureaucratic twist, $750,000 of the $1 million originally earmarked for rural veterinarians now will be appropriated to DVMs who fill vacant Food Safety and Inspection Service posts, a public health agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The move, while criticized in organized veterinary medicine, also outlines USDA's plans to reserve $50,000 of NVMSA funds for administrative costs and save $200,000 for future needs.
It's a disappointment, but state lawmakers are picking up the slack, Hochstadt says.
"They're hearing from their constituents that there's a real shortage of veterinarians, and perhaps it's time to think outside the box on this," he says.