By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Julie Landen of Tipton, Ohio, can’t wait to start her veterinary studies at The Ohio State University next fall.
At a time when large-animal vets were in demand, Landen, now a senior in high school, enrolled in the Iowa State University veterinary program at the conclusion of her junior year. With that enrollment she was guaranteed a $60,000 veterinarian school loan, with the promise of serving four years in the field.
Landen was fortunate. That was 2010 and the need for large-animal vets was critical. Today, the job market is putting a squeeze on just about any field of study – especially large-animal veterinary students.
Dr. Dave Glauer, former state veterinarian and technical writer for the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, said four years ago there was a shortage of veterinarians because fewer students were from a rural background, and being a large-animal vet requires a longer work week and more time on call and on the road.
In addition, Glauer said, “There was a lot of demand for veterinarians in all types of practices. The average OSU vet graduate received 2.5 job offers. It was a problem that was going on over the last 10 to 15 years, and slowly the problem was recognized.”
But today, there is a surplus and students wishing to enroll are being turned away. Veterinary hopefuls at OSU are feeling the pinch. Two years ago the school tried to attract students to its program by offering them a guaranteed spot in the veterinary school. Nearly 1,000 qualified candidates vied for just 140 spots.
In 2011 students in the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences were guaranteed admission to vet school by taking specific classes and maintaining a high grade point average.
Dr. Tom Rosol, dean of OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, saw the shortage coming in 2009. That year the school had 106 graduates and of those, just six went into large-animal exclusive or predominant practice and 12 went into mixed practice.
Nationwide in 2010, just 197 of the 1,405 graduates at 26 veterinary schools went into large animal or mixed practice, according to the American Veterinary Medical Assoc. (AVMA).
The dilemma is just as bad in states like Kansas and Oklahoma, where the rural landscape is greater and large-animal veterinarians were once a hot commodity. Dr. Sara Craven, one of five students in the Veterinary Program for Rural Kansas who graduated last spring, said Kansas State University agreed to give her $80,000 to attend veterinary college – provided she practiced in rural Kansas for four years.
“Unfortunately, at the end of four years I’m coming up short finding a job,” she said. Participants in the KSU program have six months to start working or they are on the hook to repay the loan (with interest).
Dr. Chris Ross, associate dean for academic affairs at Oklahoma State University, agrees the problem is a harsh reality of economic times.
“Any geographic location with a shortage of veterinarians does not have enough paying work to financially support more veterinarians,” he said. “We often hear the phrase repeated that ‘there are 1,500 counties that have no large-animal veterinarians at all’ when in reality, most of the economies in those counties can’t or won’t support veterinary services for their food-animal populations.”
According to the AVMA, just five years ago there were 20 states that established some form of financial incentive program to attract more veterinarians into rural practice. The announcement of the shortage, the AVMA states, started seven years ago and 20 states felt that dire need for large animal veterinarians.
That national emergency, the AVMA reports, is over.