HD7 - Shortage of Large Animal Veterinarians in Virginia (HJR 730, 2009)

Executive Summary:
Food and fiber production is critical to the welfare, security and future of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The number of individuals supporting this system, including veterinarians who provide health care to the associated animals, is declining nationwide. A moderate to severe shortage of food animal veterinarians in private and public sectors over the next 20 years has been predicted. To that end, the 2009 Virginia General Assembly passed HJR 730. The resolution requested the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine lead a study to review the current and projected shortage of food animal veterinarians in the Commonwealth and make recommendations to alleviate the shortage.

Key Findings

• Multiple regions of the Commonwealth, broadly described as Southside, Central, and far Southwest Virginia have potential shortages of food animal veterinarians.

* The availability of food animal veterinarians in the Commonwealth is highest in areas with high cattle density, especially dairy cattle; these regions are well-served today

* Rural regions tend to be served by multi-species practices or practitioners, which adds to the complexity of the business model and expertise needed by veterinarians serving these regions

* Rural veterinary practices that serve distributed farming operations have difficulty becoming and remaining profitable

* The current shortage, especially in rural areas, will worsen unless such practices can be made economically viable

• The lack of rural medical professionals is not unique to the veterinary profession; similar shortages exist in human medicine.

* Rural development depends on the provision of quality health care, including veterinary medicine

* Rural professionals tend to come from rural backgrounds; thus, recruitment and development of those individuals in their communities is essential

• Public health depends on veterinary professionals that are active in the private and public sectors throughout the Commonwealth. The human health risks from rabies, brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis have been dramatically reduced by the actions of veterinarians. Conversely, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), monkey pox, and influenzas demonstrate that pathogens continue to cross species barriers and continue to place the public at risk.

• Many young veterinarians are burdened with a significant debt load after graduation but the debt load is not unique to food animal veterinarians; it is a burden for all veterinary, human medical, and dentistry students after graduation. The ability to service this debt has direct influence on the choice of jobs after graduation.

Potential Solutions

Solutions to address the current and projected shortage of food animal veterinarians need to be varied and tailored to the location. In addition, flexibility and creativity are to be encouraged. In simple terms, one statewide solution will not solve this challenge.

The long term availability of large animal veterinarians in rural, underserved areas of the Commonwealth will depend on

• Veterinary students who desire to work with livestock in rural Virginia

• An adaptive veterinary curriculum that provides the skills, knowledge, and mentorship necessary to succeed in rural practice,

• An economically viable livestock industry that supports rural food animal veterinarians

The Study Group proposes the following solutions:

• To address the shortage of food animal veterinary practices in the Commonwealth, localities, organizations and businesses need to

* Encourage veterinary access to economic development initiatives such as local Industrial Development / Economic Development Authority Assistance and business parks

* Encourage veterinary access to grants from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission in eligible rural communities

* Provide business mentorship for rural veterinary practices

• Increase state funding to support growth and expansion of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine to serve a larger student body

• Legislative and Executive support for ongoing federal initiatives

* The Federal Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program that was authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Service Act

* HR 3519, S1709: Veterinarian Services Investment Act. Introduced 7/31/2009. Congressman Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) is a cosponsor. This bill would establish a grant program to promote efforts to develop, implement, and sustain veterinary services

* HR 2999: Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act. Introduced 6/23/2009. This bill would establish fellowships for on-the-job training of veterinarians in food systems security and public health and increase faculty teaching in veterinary public health