A recent report from Vermont Public Radio warns that if you own sheep, horses or cattle, it takes longer to get medical help for your animals, if you can even get emergency veterinary service at all. In Vermont and other rural parts of the country, there is a growing shortage of large animal doctors. Public health experts say it’s a problem that could impact all of us. About 2,500 students graduate from U.S. veterinary schools each year, but fewer than 10% of them go into large animal medicine.
According to Dr. Stephen Major, who owns the Green Mountain Bovine and Equine Clinic in West Chesterfield, NH, the shortage is partly because small farms are disappearing, making it harder for vets to earn a living. But, there are still many backyard animals and nobody is willing to come that far into the hills or across the mountains from the other side to service them. Major said the problem is exacerbated because many large animal providers are nearing retirement. He said he hears over and over again how difficult it is to find young vets willing to join or take over a practice.
Middlebury veterinarian Mary O’Donovan, who graduated three years ago, thinks money and lifestyle are the main reasons there’s a shortage of large animal veterinarians. Income varies depending on where you live, but in Vermont, the starting salary for a large animal doctor is around $50,000 a year. O’Donovan pointed out that small animal veterinarians don’t have to drive from patient to patient and so can schedule more appointments per day. That gives them greater earning potential, which she says is a big deal, considering the cost of education.
While the shortage of rural veterinarians may cause animal owners to wait longer for care, Dr. Major said he’s concerned about what would happen if there was an outbreak of a serious animal-borne illness such as mad cow or foot and mouth disease.
Dr. Lyle Vogel of the American Veterinary Medical Association said people don’t realize how vital veterinarians are for public health - to examine food animals all the way from the barn to the plate. Vogel said veterinary schools need to reach out more to rural applicants, who have experience with large animals. He added lawmakers did pass legislation to provide debt relief to large animal veterinarians who work in underserved areas. Unfortunately, he stated, the law was never funded.
Source: Vermont Public Radio
Photo: Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine