The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), as part of its ongoing effort to boost the number of U.S. food animal veterinarians, has created a new program to tackle a veterinary shortage – an educational debt relief program.
Citing a decline in the number of food animal veterinarians, the AVMA has designed a program to attract those veterinarians whose job it is to keep food animals healthy. The Food Animal Veterinarian Recruitment and Retention Program is a joint effort of the AVMA and its charitable arm, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, and funded by several industry partners.
The effort provides financial incentives in the form of student loan debt forgiveness for veterinarians who commit to four years of employment in food animal veterinary medicine. Depending on demand and the availability of funds, the program seeks to support about 50 rural food animal veterinarians during the next five years by providing total payments for each practitioner of up to $100,000 for student loan debt, the AVMA said.
The pilot program comes at a time when the federal government is also recognizing the critical role food animal veterinarians play in protecting food animals, the food supply and economic and national security, said Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer. The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced that a similar federal program, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, will soon begin accepting applications.
“The AVMA has been working on Capitol Hill for years to generate attention, pass legislation and fund programs that would directly address the food animal veterinarian shortage, and we are pleased that the federal loan repayment program is seeing the light of day,” Dr. DeHaven said. “We also know that we can’t rely solely on government funding.”
The new program, he said, complements the federal program. Being able to announce the launch of the program is a testament to the AVMA’s industry partners and their commitment to helping turn the tide, he said.
About half of food animal veterinarians are over age 50 and near retirement, according to AVMA membership data. At the same time, about 15 percent of veterinary school graduates are pursuing that career path, most of whom have an average of $120,000 in educational debt.
At that rate, recent studies show that the supply of veterinarians working in food safety will fall short by 4 to 5 percent annually through 2016, the AVMA said. The AVMA unveiled the program Friday, March 12, at the annual meeting of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association in Madison, Wis., an annual gathering of more than 1,000 students enrolled in the nation’s 28 accredited veterinary schools and colleges.