There has been a lot of misinformation out there, a great deal of which is due to large organizations claiming things that are not true, namely that there is a “shortage” of veterinarians in the United States. This is simply not true. Nor is it true that there is a shortage of large animal veterinarians.
“A recent study by the National Research Council (NRC) titled “Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine” asserted that there is no present or impending shortage of veterinarians in the United States. There is, however, a maldistribution of veterinarians.” (excerpt from: Imbalanced veterinary workforce highlights opportunities as well as challenges)
This maldistribution has to do with the fact that most people are pursuing veterinary medicine to work in private practice be it large animal, small animal or equine medicine. There aren’t enough people going into research, public safety, or practicing in rural (underserved) areas.
So what’s this I hear about people getting financial incentives for working in underserved areas?
“It’s not necessarily that there aren’t ‘enough’ veterinarians to fill shortages in rural practice, but that veterinarians can’t make a living wage in those positions.” -Dr. Karen Felsted
It may sound like a great deal – you work in an underserved area for 3 years and get assistance of around $100,000 to help pay back your loans. I thought it sounded like a great thing and so did many of my classmates, until they learned that it was far more complicated than it sounded. There are very strict rules on where you can work and most of the areas that qualify do not have an economy that can sustain a veterinarian long-term. This goes back to economic supply and demand – if there isn’t a significant enough demand to support a veterinarian in an area, there won’t be veteriniarians working there. Plain and simple. It just doesn’t make economic sense. So the government is trying to off-set that economic imbalance by providing a financial incentive for people to work in these areas. Understandable as it is, I do not have confidence that it will work long-term and the vets who are selected for this will ultimately move to an area with higher demand for their services once their time is up and they’ve gained all that they can from the incentive offer.
What’s more is that there are requirements as to what type of practice you must work in (in addition to the location requirements). Here is the breakdown:
- work at least 80 percent of the time in a private practice dedicated to food animal medicine,
- work up to 30 percent of their time in a private practice in a rural area dedicated to food animal medicine, or
- work up to 49 percent of their time in a practice dedicated to public practice.
In the end, the competition for these opportunities is steep, so don’t think that just because you’re willing to abide by the requirements means that you’ll actually get selected. In 2012, there were 139 applicants and only 47 people who received awards, which makes your chances about 1 in 3.
For more on this, please read: DVMs receive student debt repayment awards from USDA