Program looks to help with veterinarian shortage

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:29 PM CST
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OSSEO, Wis. (WEAU) -Veterinarians who work with farm animals are crucial to helping make sure our food supply is safe, but there’s a growing need for these types of professionals.

One program hopes to change that.

For nearly 13 years Dr. Meg Mueller with the Osseo-Augusta Veterinary Clinic has been caring for animals both big and small.

“I am one of the fortunate ones,” Mueller said. “I grew up on a dairy farm and was able to come back to my hometown area and to be able to be a veterinarian after school.”

Practicing in a more rural community, Mueller is in an industry facing a growing shortage.

“Over the past few years I’ve heard more from veterinarians who instead of saying, ‘wow, it would really be nice if I could have another veterinary or two,’ I’m hearing that they’re truly short of staff and of veterinaries to actually cover their practice area,” said Dr. Darlene Konkle, the Wisconsin State Veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Konkle said some of the reasons for this include veterinarians retiring and others changing what type of veterinary medicine they practice. For Konkle this kind of shortage is concerning.

“Veterinarians that work on food animals in Wisconsin and other states are really the foundation for our safe and wholesome food animal supply,” Konkle said. “Veterinarians are our first line of defense of detecting animal diseases of consequence, and some of those diseases have impacts on human health as well.”

To try to get more veterinarians in underserved areas, Wisconsin participates in the USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.

“It’s a grant program that’s a three year program that’s across the entire nation, but each individual state veterinarian gets to choose areas they decide that need the help and need those large animal veterinarians,” Mueller said.

Mueller who was a recipient of the grant said it helped her offset some of her vet school costs.

“We have a significant amount of debt coming out of vet school regardless, so to be able to move to a rural area where maybe that practice isn’t going to be able to pay a salary that you’d be able to get in a large city, that can really be a big toll for making those decisions,” Mueller said.

By reimbursing some of their educational costs, Konkle is hopeful this program will draw new veterinarians to areas that need them most.

Konkle said the average debt for a vet student is more than $100,000.

Recipients of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program are reimbursed up to $25,000 a year for three years.