Thursday, May 22, 2008

Large-animal veterinarian shortage affects animals, humans and perhaps food safety

Pam Belluck of The New York Times took a fresh look recently at the shortage of large-animal veterinarians, an important story that could be done in many rural areas.

"Since 1990, the number of veterinarians focusing on large animals has dropped to fewer than 4,500 from nearly 6,000, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which said those doctors now made up less than 10 percent of private-practice veterinarians," Belluck writes. "A recent study predicted that by 2016, 4 out of every 100 food-animal veterinary jobs would go unfilled." (Photo for the Times by Linda Coas O'Kresik)

“We look at it as a crisis,” Dr. Roger Mahr, the association’s president told Belluck. He "cited serious consequences not only for the well-being of farmers and animals, but also potentially for food safety and the impact of non-native diseases like bird flu. “Of all the emerging diseases in people in the last 25 years, 75 percent of those were transmitted from animals,” Mahr said. “Veterinarians are the ones to identify those diseases in animals first.”

Maine, for example, has only 30 large-animal veterinarians, "and across the country, veterinarians who care for the animals that provide the United States with food are in increasingly short supply. For one, there is generally more money to be made caring for cats and dogs. And with fewer students from farm backgrounds, fewer gravitate to rural jobs, especially if a spouse needs work, too. Large-animal care can be tough, even dangerous — think of maneuvering in frigid weather around 1,000-pound cows in manure-filled pens. And more veterinarians are women, generally less inclined toward large animals."

A 2004 federal law that "offered to repay" student loans to veterinarians who work in underserved areas, has received little financing, Belluck writes. Loan repayment or grant programs have under way or have been proposed in Kansas, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Texas, and elsewhere, she reported. "In Iowa, students at the state’s veterinary school formed Vsmart, which barnstorms county fairs and 4-H meetings to entice teenagers to become rural veterinarians." In Oklahoma, a legislator-rancher has introduced a bill offering tax breaks to large-animal veterinarians.

Small-animal vet practices can be more profitable because they allow dozens of animals to be treated each day in an office setting, as opposed to required long distance trips between farms and ranches for those working with large animals. Owners of family cats or dogs are more likely to pay for expensive treatments or procedures.


Anonymous said...

I am writing a paper on women vets and how ranchers view them. Do you have any insite on what types of issues come up when a woman is sent to work on large animals instead of men. What type of reaction or bias does the customer have. Also, do you think women are able to do the job sucessfully.

Unknown said...

As a female mixed animal practitioner of 14 years, my biggest difficulty has NOT been the large animal clients,it has been the male large animal veterinarians and their wives in the practices that I have worked in. I am ranch raised so I have no problem conversing with the clients but I do have problems with college educated colleagues with bad attitudes. I more than capable of preg testing cows, performing C-sections on cows as well as pulling calves and the clients seem to get that uneducated though they may be. More often it is the men vets closer to my age than the old timers vets that are unwilling to treat me as an equal. I don't understand it as there is enough work for everyone. Go figure!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a veterinary student about to graduate with a desire to go into large animal exclusive practice. However, this shortage of vets does not seem to exist. There are only a few jobs open right now, and those have become highly competitive - every practice I've talked to has mentioned how stunned they are at the number of applications they've gotten for their opening. There may be people out there who feel under serviced, but there certainly isn't a hole in the veterinary community to fill. If anything, there are extra veterinarians that can't find job.

Anna said...

To the person that said that they could not find a job- look at the entire United States and see how many places need large animal veterinarians. Just because your area has alot of veterinarians does not mean that other places don't need you. Wisconsin and Illinois are both in dire need as well as Maine. And there are always govm't jobs.

Unknown said...

The problem with my large animal practice is the farmers exhaust all free sources of info like internet,coop, and state extension personel all the while loosing valuable time and letting the animal slip into worse shape under the disguise of trying to save money! Then expect me to work a literal miricle to save the animal and the three hour dead offspring! Also if the proper survey were conducted by non government paid employees(vet school employees) the results might result in things like having to be on call but not being paid, having to wait 30-90 days to get paid,no one expects to pay you over time for nights holidays nor Sundays, only hearing from a farmer once every 2 years but expecting you to drop your regular client to come to him immediately, and badmouthing you if you don't. Even to the point of national publicity ! Lets be honest an average salary for a profesional doctor of 15-19 dollars per hour with a school debt of 80- 100 thousand dollars is absurd. It's an insult to any student to work as hard as it takes to get in and through vet school to be insulted with that kind of work and pay. Even experienced l
LA vets only average 20-30 dollars per hour!

Anonymous said...

william got it exactly right. Why should I work 60 - 70 hours a week to end up making $35 - 40 thousand a year? The problem is the farmers, they think because their daddy, grandaddy and uncle does something, that is the only thing that will work. THen they get pissie and act like idiots when you try to help them. NO one wants to be treated like shit. Today for example, I started working at 5am, palpated 650 cows, pulled a calf, saw a couple with abcesses, and bangs vaccinated 50 head and have grossed about $2400 today. Its 5pm now and I am leaving and get a call from someone who has not been in the clinic since 2006 and wants me to drive 45 miles to pull a calf that has been in labor since Sunday night. Really? Come on, its not an emergency at this point, if I got I can only charge $75 -$100 and it will take me at least 2 hours to get back home. I am not going to do it, I will see my 12 scheduled small animal apps and make $125 - $200 each and be home by 2pm. So Do the math!!

Anonymous said...

It's been almost 3 years since this was posted and as a vet tech working in a failing mixed animal practice, I can tell you that things haven't gotten any better since this was written. In fact the last 8 months has been hell. We've gone from having a staff of 5 to 3 (2 FT, 1 PT) and barely bringing in $800 a day. Why are our service fee's only slightly higher than they were 30 years ago when the cost of supplies and education has more than doubled? Everybody likes to bitch about the problem but does anybody have an idea about how to fix this? Practice owners need to talk to one another, cattlemen associations need to start promoting the use of veterinarians for more than c-sections, preg check and prolapse repairs, and ranchers need to quit buying vaccines and pour-on from catalogs. I also see very little large animal veterinary marketing and I don't know where to begin. We need to get off our collective asses and change the world before the we get left behind.