KitchenLambI have written a couple of times about the loss of competent livestock veterinarians, especially ruminant experts, in our county and region. I have talked with our State Vet office before about this, and they share the concern. So I was delighted to see the below news in the latest WSU Veterinary Medicine Extension newsletter. The USDA is sponsoring help with student loan repayments as an incentive for food animal vets to choose that discipline and stay and practice in particular areas of need. $25K per year towards their student loans for three years.

The article does a good job of summarizing how important this issue is to our nation and our food security. Access to qualified and affordable veterinary help is a key success factor for family farmers and ranchers. Please chime in to our WA state vet office to let them know if you live in an area that’s lacking in food animal vets, or if you know of a recent graduate veterinarian who could benefit from one of these grants. The timeline is short: input is due by January 14th, email contact at the bottom of the article. It is really important that we all give input into this, to pull federal dollars our way and help out the meat and milk production industries in the Northwest before they disappear!

WSDA Corner by Dr. Leonard Eldridge, State Veterinarian

Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) — In recent years, studies have indicated a shortage of veterinarians in nearly all sectors and that food supply veterinarians are in the greatest need. Food supply veterinary medicine embraces a broad array of veterinary professional activities and is defined as the full range of veterinary medical practices contributing to the production of a safe and wholesome food supply and to animal, human, and environmental health.

The private food animal veterinary practitioner population within the US is the single most important component of the food supply veterinary medical sector. Food animal veterinarians, working closely with livestock producers, and state and federal officials constitute the first line of defense against the spread of endemic and zoonotic diseases. The introduction of high consequence foreign animal diseases or other threats to the health and well-being of both animals and humans that consume animal products is a threat to human health, animal health, and the economic well-being of the livestock industry and the state’s economy.

Studies have also confirmed that insufficient numbers of veterinary students are selecting food supply veterinary careers, which has resulted in projections for worsening shortages over the next 10 years. While there are many reasons students listed for opting not to choose a career in food animal practice or other food supply veterinary sectors, among other reasons was a concern over burdensome educational debt. The average educational debt for students graduating from veterinary school is approximately $130,000. Such debt prompts students to select other veterinary careers such as companion animal medicine, which pays more, allowing them to pay off debt more rapidly. Student debt repayment and scholarship programs are the most important strategies to remedy projected shortages in food animal practitioners.

The VMLRP has tasked the State Veterinarian with identifying areas of their state with the greatest need for food animal practitioners. The first round of funding and process was a learning experience. The reviewing committee disallowed our applications telling me I needed to be more specific in the area identified and the type of activity needed. I need livestock producers to identify areas of need for veterinary service in the state. The need must be specific and the area can be no larger than 1 to 3 counties depending on animal population. I also need information if there are food animal practitioners that still have student debt and that reducing that debt would allow them to remain in an area of the state to serve as a food animal practitioner.

My deadline to submit for veterinary shortage areas is February 1, 2011. I am asking you to send me your feedback by January 14, 2011. This will allow me to fully develop position descriptions for our state underserved veterinarian areas you have identified. On March 1, 2011 USDA will post state approved awards. Veterinarian applicants will have 60-days to submit applications for VMLRP with offers made to selected individual veterinarian applicants by September 1, 2011. The VMLRP will pay up to $25,000 each year towards qualified educational loans of eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) designated veterinarian shortage situation for a period of three years.