The Missouri Department of Agriculture will use a $500,000 2-year grant from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development to study the feasibility of establishing a training institute to prepare newly graduated veterinarians for large-animal medicine in rural areas.
The needs are acute, according to recent studies by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). AVMA says while the overall number of veterinarians in the U.S. has risen by 50 percent over the last decade, those who work with large farm animals has declined by 10 percent. Only 9 percent of new graduates plan to make farm animals a part of their practice.
University of Missouri Veterinary College Dean Neil Olson said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to offer students clinical training opportunities. If the proposed institute comes into being, it will offer recently minted DVMs an opportunity to expand their marketability and expertise in food animal practice. “It’s not just going out and serving the rural community per se,” said Neil. Those areas alone, he said, face an immediate shortfall of 1,500 veterinarians nationwide; in addition, half of farm vets are older than 50, and only 4.4 percent are younger than 30. According to USDA, a third of the veterinarians working at the federal level will be eligible to retire in the next 3 years.
The St. Joseph, Mo. area appears to be the leading candidate to host the institute; it’s in the middle of what the state calls its “Kansas City Animal Health Corridor,” with more than 200 businesses located in the area. Proponents of the institute are hoping animal health companies will provide some resources and, in turn, the institute would train DVMs to meet the companies’ hiring needs as well. Neil said, “We’ve heard numbers that 50-100 veterinarians nationally would be recruited to this institute, for initially a 1-year experience, but it might end up being a 1-2 year experience.”
Over the next 2 years, Neil and other members of the project’s working group will develop a business and financial plan and curriculum, and recruit the institute’s faculty and administration. In the third year, veterinarians would be brought in to participate in a pilot project. He said there’s no question the biggest challenge is going to be long-term funding. “There may be funding from private sources, agricultural groups, perhaps federal funding, but I don’t think any single source would be enough to fund this thing,” Neil said, estimating the cost of operation at several million dollars per year.
Although the AVMA says large animal practitioners earn on average 11 percent less, Neil disputed that and said they do “every bit as well” as their counterparts in small animal medicine. But the job has other drawbacks. He said while veterinary is “attractive to a lot of students that come from a rural background – it’s in their blood, if you will – in the case of a food animal practitioner going out on the farm, it’s a very physically demanding job. When a student has the opportunity to compare it to different possibilities, there are certainly some veterinarians that choose to go into an area where they won’t get physically abused working on large livestock.”


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