Rural Vets: By the Numbers
Potential help on the way for national shortage of rural veterinarians

The life of a rural veterinarian is anything but clean or glamorous. Dr. Ronald Box figures he could earn the same pay if he shuttered his Pecos clinic to eliminate overhead costs and worked at dairies and ranches. But he says he can’t do that. Too many people—and their animals—rely on him.
IMAGE: Woody Welch

Statistics help tell the story of a national shortage of rural veterinarians:

• Debt: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), veterinary college graduates nationwide left school in 2009 carrying an average of almost $130,000 in debt; 89 percent of all graduates that year left veterinary school with debt. In spring 2010, almost 37 percent of the 125-member graduating class at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences left school more than $100,000 in debt.

• Texas’ veterinarian distribution: According to the AVMA (see map), remote areas in the Panhandle, South Texas and West Texas show the most severe shortages of veterinarians. Statistics indicate that almost one-quarter of Texas’ counties, 62, have no food-animal veterinarians. And 63 Texas counties have just one veterinarian available to treat farm and ranch animals.

• Gender about-face: In 2010, in a statistic reflecting a national trend, women composed about three-quarters of Texas A&M’s graduating veterinarian class. Some studies indicate that female veterinarians, for many reasons, might not be as inclined to enter large-animal practice.

• Tuition: A report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board states that Texas A&M University “has kept its tuition as affordable as possible, over $7,000 less than the average veterinary school tuition in the 10 most populous states.” Indeed, tuition for Texas A&M veterinary students has not increased over the past 10 years, although fees have increased dramatically during that same time frame. Generally speaking, it’s expensive to attend any veterinary college because schools must stay on the cutting-edge of technology and healthcare by providing the best possible faculty members and medical equipment.

Potential Help on the Way

• Texas A&M University request:
Texas A&M is requesting $115 million in tuition revenue bonds from the Texas Legislature for a new classroom facility that would increase class sizes by more than 13 percent, potentially sending more veterinarians into rural areas. The request includes money for a small-animal teaching hospital expansion.

• Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program: This federal program will pay up to $25,000 per year toward educational debt relief for eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in designated shortage areas for at least three years (Texas has eight designated areas). Two U.S. senators, from South Dakota and Idaho, have introduced legislation seeking tax-exempt status for the program. Currently, 39 percent of the funding is returned to the U.S. Treasury as a federal tax. Removing the tax, legislators say, would provide more money for rural veterinarians and allow for awarded funding to one additional veterinarian per every three now eligible.

Veterinary Scholarships Available

One of our readers, Koleta Thompson, a member of Pedernales Electric Cooperative, sent this valuable information about scholarships available to veterinary students in Texas:

The Texas Farm Bureau offers scholarships to youth for study in the field of agriculture, including veterinary medicine.

Applications are online now for students whose family members belong to a local Farm Bureau. Most counties give four $1,000 scholarships each year. Call your area Farm Bureau or go online at to get more information.

USDA Vet Loan Repayment Program

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) is accepting nominations for areas of the state experiencing a shortage of veterinarians engaging in food animal medicine, rural, or public practice. The TAHC will forward nominations on selected shortage areas to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for inclusion in the national Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) for the 2011 award cycle. The VMLRP will pay up to $25,000 per year for three years, towards qualified educational loans for eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in a designated shortage area.


The documents available for download below describe the program and provide information on how to enter. Nominations for 2011 are open until January 26.


News Release: 2010 Award Recipients Chosen


News Release: 2011 Nominations Now Open


2011 Nomination Form

TAGS: Agriculture, Education, Web Extras

Are you a co-op member?

Don't ask again