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Monday, March 26, 2012

Do We Need Another Vet School?

A few weeks ago I read an article that discussed a new veterinary college that is being planned in Arizona.  The decision to open a new school stems from a perceived shortage of vets in the state. 

Arizona has one veterinarian per 4,100 animals, while the national average is one per 3,500. Greenlee, La Paz and Yuma counties have no veterinarians, according to Midwestern spokeswoman Stacy Pearson.

While on the surface this seems to speak of a need, it turns out that the real shortage is in large animal vets.  The deficit of veterinarians practicing in this field is nation-wide, hitting rural and agricultural areas hardest.  However, I have doubts that a new vet school is going to meet this particular need, as a vet pointed out in the article.

Gary Thrasher, a "food-animal" veterinarian who has treated large animals all over the state for 41 years, said he and many other large-animal vets are getting older.
"A lot are retiring or dying off, and it has left a vacuum," he said.
Few young people who graduate from veterinary school want to live his life, Thrasher added. A typical call could mean a drive of 80 miles or more. Hours are long, and urban cat and dog clinics can pay more and offer better conditions. In addition, horses tend to be companion animals that are found nearer cities.
"My only concern about a veterinarian-teaching hospital is that a ton of people want to become veterinarians but few want to become large-animal veterinarians, and the few that do don't stay in it very long," Thrasher said.

I completely agree with Dr. Thrasher.  I firmly believe that the US shortage of food- and large-animal vets has nothing to do with the number of vets who graduate every year.  As our population has shifted from rural backgrounds to suburban and urban, fewer and fewer people have the background that would give them an interest in this area of medicine.  Honestly, I'm not sure how to meet this need and change interests, but Dr. Thrasher is spot-on in saying that most new graduates now want the lifestyle of being in small animal medicine.

I keep reading articles in journals talking about how the unemployment rate among vets is the highest in recent memory (though still far lower than the national average), new graduates are taking longer than ever before until they can find a job, student debt is at record highs, and vet schools are having to cut back on programs and faculties because of budget cuts.  With all of these things in mind, should we really be opening a new vet school?  Personally, I don't think it's wise. 

I bet that most of the graduates from this new vet school will end up in small animal medicine.  They may see a slight increase in the numbers of large animal vets, but I don't think it will be enough to help.  States like this need to look at debt-forgiveness programs and other methods to entice people to move there and be vets in the agricultural industries.  I'm concerned that opening another vet school now will increase the difficulties for new graduates to find well-paying jobs.  With current concerns in personal and educational finances, I worry that the people involved are being too short-sighted and relying on hope that this will change the situation.