The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that more than 40 student debt repayment awards averaging just over $98,000 have been granted to veterinarians who agree to work in areas that lack veterinary services. The awards total more than $4.6 million and will benefit 30 states.
“Many veterinarians are facing insurmountable student loan debt, and they choose to work in urban locations that offer higher pay. This is causing a critical shortage of veterinarians in rural America,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the program providing the awards, in a prepared statement. “This assistance will help veterinarians return to rural America where they can provide needed services to our farmers and ranchers and continue to keep our food supply safe for all Americans.”
According to the latest American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) survey, four years of veterinary school can average $150,000. The USDA sees the burden of student debt as a contributor to growing shortages in food supply veterinarians and veterinarians serving in certain other “high-priority” specialty areas. Award recipients are required to practice for three years in a designated veterinary shortage area, which means they must:
• work at least 80 percent of the time in a private practice dedicated to food animal medicine,
• work up to 30 percent of their time in a private practice in a rural area dedicated to food animal medicine, or
• work up to 49 percent of their time in a practice dedicated to public practice.
NIFA received 139 applications in fiscal year 2012 and doled out 47 awards, each averaging $98,105. Of the awards given, 72 percent went to individuals who obtained their doctor of veterinary medicine degree within the last three years.