No, there’s not a shortage of veterinarians

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It’s generally been assumed there are not enough veterinarians to serve rural America. But that assumption may no longer be valid.  

“The veterinary schools and recruitment efforts have generated a supply of new and recent graduates that have both interest levels and skill sets that would serve them well in a food-animal practice, as well as a mixed-animal practice in rural America,” Gatz Riddell, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, pointed out on the AgriTalk radio show this week.

Rather than a shortage of veterinarians in rural areas, Riddell calls it a “distribution problem.”

There are parts of the country that are underserved, where people with cattle do not have ready access to veterinarians, Riddell acknowledged. At the same time, “there may not be enough infrastructure, there may not be enough potential clientele to generate the type of business that a veterinarian would need to exist in that area,” he said.

This situation is made even more acute by the large amount of debt that many students accumulate in veterinary school.  

To get veterinarians in the underserved areas, a better business or practice model may be needed, he adds.

"We've got to make sure, at the end of the day, that there’s a robust practice model that will allow them to make a living in a part of the country where they want to work,” Riddell says.

He mentioned some possibilities:

  • Regional practice centers where the work load is shared among several veterinarians instead of having just one practitioner putting in long hours, with frequent emergency calls.
  • Registered veterinary technicians working under the guidance of veterinarians.
  • More mentoring opportunities.

To hear the entire interview on AgriTalk, click here.





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Ohio  |  June, 06, 2011 at 09:48 AM

This article is so true. During the years of undergrad and even during vet school, we were told time and time again that there was a shortage of large animal vets in particular. Many of us then geared our careers into that direction, with either solely large animal or mixed animal interests. Now many of my classmates and I are finding that the jobs are not there. Even if we were to begin our own practices in these labeled under-served areas, there would not be enough clientele to support a veterinarian and to allow him or her the monetary benefit to afford the ever rising student loans. It's an unfortunate reality. Where I have the education, the desire, and the enthusiasm to practice mixed animal medicine in rural America, I instead will be settling for the small animal realm. We, as a profession, have no other options than to adjust with the times and the needs of the food animal industries.

Oregon  |  June, 06, 2011 at 02:48 PM

Thank You! It's about time the truth is being reported. I dreamed about becoming a large animal vet in a rural area. News reports and the universities kept speaking of the great need and the shortages. Unfortunately, once I became a veterinarian, I found there was an oversupply of vets and a rare need for large animal vets. Thank you American Association of Bovine Practitioners!

Tennessee  |  June, 06, 2011 at 03:03 PM

Good comments from Kelsy and Tracie. The fact is that the rural communities will not support a DVM for their large animal work. The farmers want to do their own vaccines, deworming, and basic care. They only want to use a veterinarian when there is an emergency, and are surprised that there're none able to help because they've had to practice elsewhere.

Southeast  |  June, 07, 2011 at 03:49 PM

AMEN! I have been hearing this BS drumbeat about a shortage of food animal vets since I entered vet school in 1997. There IS a shortage of intelligent, motivated individuals willing to invest the time, effort, and cash to work in a geographical area that offers no chance of financial success. From what I've seen, new graduates are now reaping the disappointing fruit from the years this lie was perpetuated. The old practice model, running around to palpate and treat emergencies fails modern vets and modern cattle interests. Sure, it's great for the hobby farmer. Dairy and beef veterinarians should look to our colleagues in the poultry and swine industry as the future of our profession. True consultants, specialized and dedicated to providing beneficial knowledge and skills that modern producers need to survive. I have said it for years, and will say it again: It is time for the Veterinary degree and license to be split apart. Those with no training or experience in cattle medicine should NOT be allowed to write prescriptions for every backyard cowboy that will end up sending an animal with violative residues to slaughter. The industry has far too much to lose in today's world to continue tolerating the concept that all veterinarians are equal.

Georgia  |  June, 07, 2011 at 05:49 PM

FINALLY!! A common sense approach. State and Federal governments are just now figuring out that veterinarians are valuable and think that they should help subsidize their education with loan repayment. Loan repayment or not, if there is a) not enough clientele to support food animal/large animal or significant mixed animal practice in many of these rural areas, b) the producers may not be willing to pay for the services (excluding consulting work) to support the veterinarians. The cost of production goes higher, as does the cost to treat animals. It is an unfortunate reality. Great feedback and comments...I think we need to do a better job of selling ourselves to producers so that they see the value in having a regular veterinarian. Some areas of the country do a much better job at that than others, but the reality is that would take many years and costs on both sides are only going to escalate. Thanks for addressing this topic!

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