COLUMBIA — The Large Animal Veterinary Student Loan Program got off to a slow start.
An unfunded version of the bill was passed several years ago, said Dr. John Dodam, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Veterinary Medicine, but on July 1, the funded bill will finally go into effect.
With an increasingly urbanized population, changes in the veterinary profession, agriculture and huge changes in the population and economic health in rural areas, there is a limited number of vet school students that consider large animal practice in rural Missouri, Dodam said.
“We’re losing vets all the time. We need someone out there for our food animals,” said Dr. Taylor H. Woods, the acting state veterinarian for Missouri.
The rising cost of tuition is a growing problem for all vet students, since they are in school for seven to eight years, Dodam said. This bill can greatly help this problem, he added.
“It’s a way to allow students to flourish in a private practice because it will minimize their debt load,” Dodam said.
Assisting rural vets in paying back school debts, said Dodam, can ultimately help supply safe food, bio-security and public health because these vets treat animals such as cows, pigs, goats and sheep. A large animal vet would prevent the spread of diseases between the animal and human population, Dodam said.
These vets will often be expected to treat other animals, like horses and dogs, which is one reason being a rural vet is so difficult. These vets must have more knowledge and use more equipment, Dodam said.
The advisory committee will be deciding the terms of the loan program sometime before July 1. They will decide how many students they will choose, up to six, and how much money each receives. The committee has $120,000 to spend for each year, said Dr. Bud Hertzog, practicing vet and chairman of the committee. The committee will also be getting the policy regulation ready, he said.
The committee is made up of five people to decide how to best utilize the money. Three are practicing vets, one is the associate dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at MU and one is a cattle producer and former president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Hertzog said. The vets are from various areas of the state and have a lot of experience, he added.
Missouri isn’t the only state taking an initiative in the national shortage of large animal vets in rural areas. Kansas was the first to start a similar program and seven other states have followed suit, Hertzog said. Human medicine has done this program for a number of years, and veterinary medicine is following suit, he said.
“We are the second largest cattle-producing state to Texas, so it’s important we address this issue,” Hertzog said.
The committee will send the vets to underserved areas or to a market area or sale, where the state requires a licensed vet to be on duty when and where the market operates, Woods said. They will also look at areas where the current vets are trying to retire or are past retirement, he added. The committee will also take requests from organizations as potential areas to send vets, Hertzog said.
The committee is thinking it will choose third- and fourth-year students at first to get them out there quickly, Hertzog said. There will be many applicants, and they will be chosen according to their financial need and the quality of the applicant, Dodam said. The students chosen will then be committed to practicing in an underserved area after graduation, Dodam added.
“We are very appreciative of the Missouri legislature and the governor supporting this bill,” Hertzog said. “There is absolutely a great need, and we are very anxious to get this implemented as soon as we can.”