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Bill in Kentucky legislature could bring Kentucky its first vet school
By Doug Schmitz
Iowa Correspondent

MURRAY, Ky. – The Kentucky House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would establish Murray State University as the state’s first school of veterinary medicine.
Sponsored by State Rep. Richard Heath (R-Mayfield), House Bill 400, which passed 82-6 on Feb. 15, would amend state statutes to allow Murray State University in Murray to officially offer Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees. The bill advanced from the House Agriculture Committee Feb. 7.
Bob Jackson, Murray State president, said, “We are very grateful for the support of our legislators in working toward the development of a new School of Veterinary Medicine at Murray State University. These are major steps as we continue to move forward through the legislative process.
“This initiative is a vitally important one for the recruitment and retention of future veterinarians in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and in our region,” he added. “We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to greatly enhance a key workforce initiative and a multi-billion-dollar industry in our state, while meeting the needs of the agricultural industry.”
Kentucky is one of more than 20 states without a school of veterinary medicine. The University of Kentucky currently has a department of veterinary science, but only offers master’s and doctorate degree programs. In the United States, there are only 33 veterinary colleges accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 86,300 veterinarians in the United States, and that number is expected to grow by over 19 percent by 2031. The bureau also reported a total of 122,800 veterinarian technologists or technicians are working today, and the field is expected to grow by 20 percent by 2031.
Currently, Murray State’s Hutson School of Agriculture has the largest estimated pre-veterinary medicine and veterinary technology enrollment of about 450 students of any university in Kentucky, according to university officials.
Moreover, Murray State is also just one of three programs in Kentucky that is fully accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. (The other two are MedQuest College in Lexington, and Morehead State University in Morehead).
In addition, Murray State’s Breathitt Veterinary Center, located in Hopkinsville, and directed by the Hutson School of Agriculture, is a nationally preeminent animal disease diagnostic laboratory for the state’s equine, livestock and poultry industries.
Heath said, “We rank in the top 20 of production in several crops and livestock inventory. We’re the largest beef state east of the Mississippi. We’re the nation’s leading producer of horses, overall.”
To date, 86 Kentucky counties are facing a shortage of veterinarians, namely in rural areas, as well as large animal specialists, according to the USDA.
Heath said establishing an in-state, post-undergraduate degree option would keep more veterinarians in the state. “By establishing a veterinary school, we can cultivate a pool of skilled professionals equipped to address these challenges, ensuring the well-being of both animals and communities that rely upon them.”
The Commonwealth of Kentucky currently has contracts with Auburn University and Tuskegee University in Alabama to reserve nearly 40 seats between the two institutions’ veterinary programs for Kentucky residents each year.
“For those of you unfamiliar with this agreement, we pay Auburn for a set number of slots,” Heath said on the House floor. “This fiscal year, the Commonwealth will pay more than $5.2 million. Auburn then determines which applicants will be accepted, and those fortunate enough to be chosen then pay in-state tuition to attend Auburn. However, that agreement is only available for (38) slots for a four-year program.”
Last year alone, he said, there were almost four times as many applicants for those 38 seats.
“In fact, Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine has a total of 130 slots available,” he said. “Last year, there were 1,217 students that applied for those 130 slots. Even if they graduate, only 68 percent of Kentucky (residents) return to practice. That contributes to a massive shortage in veterinarians, particularly in rural areas, and specifically, large animal vets.”
While some lawmakers said the bill would address the state’s veterinarian shortage, opponents said the proposal raises concerns about the existing relationships with other programs.
State Rep. Chad Aull (D-Lexington), said on the House floor, “For me, this vote is not about whether or not we should build a veterinary school at any one particular location in Kentucky. It is, should Kentucky build a veterinary school at all? No other state in this country has a reciprocal agreement like we do with Auburn, and also has a veterinary school. None.”
But Kentucky Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy (R-Paducah), said, “(The bill) doesn’t say that there will be a veterinary school built in Kentucky. It says there can be a veterinary school built in Kentucky. It’s still on the (Kentucky) Council of Post-Secondary Education to approve everything.”
Brian Parr, dean of Murray State’ Hutson School of Agriculture, told Farm World, “The distributed model is an innovative model for veterinary education that immerses students in authentic experiences that cannot be duplicated in a university setting.
“This real-world experience will serve our future veterinarians well as they prepare to step into veterinary clinics as ‘day one ready’ veterinarians,” he said. “This model is predominant in recently established veterinary schools which have educated veterinarians that pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination at rates above the national average.
“This model also follows the trend established by human medical education over the last two decades,” he added.
According to university officials, Murray State recently adopted a resolution of support by its Board of Regents, and established a School of Veterinary Medicine Task Force comprised of leading agricultural professionals.
Moreover, it has also completed a feasibility study that indicated many benefits of a new School of Veterinary Medicine at Murray State, and gathered support from various legislators, governmental entities, communities, industry representatives, organizations, and individuals.
The bill now moves to the Kentucky Senate for consideration.
2/27/2024