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Veterinary Group's Congressional Agenda Focuses On Workforce Issues

July 10, 2017

"Congratulations, you've finally earned your veterinary degree. Here's a bill for $130,000."

Veterinary school graduates are entering the profession today with educational debt that resembles an average mortgage in the United States. What a graduation gift.

With average educational debt approaching the estimated $136,000 average of a U.S. home mortgage, veterinarians new to the field face significant financial challenges. But this isn't only about veterinarians. It's about animal and public health, as well as food safety.

The sobering debt levels of veterinary graduates are forcing many beginning practitioners to make some tough decisions about where to live and what type of veterinary medicine to practice. Many of them are going where the salaries are higher, and unfortunately, this often means bypassing rural areas of great veterinary need - particularly in food animal veterinary medicine.

A recent survey of graduating veterinary students conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) indicates that debt levels continue to climb each year. And the salaries many of these veterinarians rely on to help pay that debt are only slightly higher than your average sales rep and lower than your average real estate broker.

"Many veterinary students want to pursue a career in which they work in rural areas or with food animals, but two of the biggest obstacles standing in their way are their level of educational debt and their starting salaries," said Dr. Larry R. Corry, president of the AVMA. "They see a college loan repayment that can average more than $1,300 a month, on top of their normal living expenses, and they see a starting salary of around $63,000. They wonder if they can provide a good quality of life for themselves and their family."

The AVMA is heavily involved in trying to help alleviate this debt, and association leaders are continuing to call on the federal government to help bolster the numbers of veterinarians who perform critical duties in ensuring both animal and human health. Whether they're seeking appropriations or working to help pass legislation, AVMA leaders are focused on improving veterinary services and increasing veterinary availability around the country.

- The AVMA is urging Congress to appropriate $5 million in fiscal year 2010 for the National Veterinary Medical Service Act Veterinary Loan Repayment Program. Signed into law in 2003, the program is designed to provide debt relief to veterinarians who pledge to work in underserved areas - particularly in rural locations and with food animals. The program could begin distributing awards early in 2010.

- The AVMA is seeking an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code to make funds disbursed through the Veterinary Loan Repayment Program tax-exempt. If the program awards are tax-exempt, the number of recipients would almost double under both current and proposed funding levels.

- The AVMA is working with members of Congress to ensure passage of the Veterinary Services Investment Act (S. 1709/HR 3519), which would establish a new grant program to assist states in addressing their unique veterinary workforce needs. Elements of the program focus on recruiting veterinarians to work in underserved areas, bolstering food safety and conducting surveillance of animal diseases.

"Each of these programs will help us in our efforts to protect both animal and human health," Dr. Corry said. "They are not the answer to all the challenges we face in veterinary medicine, but they are critically important to the AVMA and the nation as a whole."

American Veterinary Medical Association