Where have all the veterinarians gone?
Charlotte Williams 6/15/2011
This is a question that an increasing number of rural areas are asking, particularly in the area of food animal care. Food animal practitioners now make up fewer than 10 percent of the veterinarians in the United States, according to a 2006 study by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition. Their work includes a wide variety of skills, from prevention and disease control on production farms to USDA food safety and inspection to laboratory analysis of processed meat samples.
A number of programs are actively in place throughout the country to combat this growing problem, including state student loan repayment programs, rural veterinary internships, and others. For example, last year Dr. Joe Hillhouse participated in an initiative led by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) through the AVMA/AVMF Food Animal Veterinary Recruitment and Retention Program to provide student loan debt forgiveness for veterinarians who met the requirements.
His practice in the small Texas towns of Borger and Panhandle also actively recruits from schools as far away as Cornell University in New York to provide internships for students who are considering a life away from the big city.
He also assisted this year in hosting the annual Food Animal Production Tour for first and second year veterinary students from Texas A&M University. They traveled over a thousand miles to visit facilities in the Texas Panhandle and to taste the sweet life in small towns. The Tour is designed to showcase state-of-the-art operations in the dairy, feedlot, swine, and beef industries and to show potential food animal veterinarians the multitudes of opportunities in food supply veterinary medicine.
This year’s cow/calf tours included a visit to the 6666 Ranch – a working Angus cattle ranch that is part of the 275,000 acre Burnett Ranches – a visit to an organic dairy, and a final stop at the WW Ranch Miniature Herefords. Quite a variety of experiences!
Unlike the larger facilities, the WW Ranch allowed the students to interact directly with the animals and to see the positive, close relationship that can develop between a veterinarian and his clients. Dr. Joe is a regular visitor to the ranch for show papers, brucellosis vaccinations, and the occasional foot rot or “what is THAT??” treatment. It also gives his interns a small, gentle set of cattle to become comfortable with procedures before tackling the Big Guys.
The Tour concluded with a lunch sponsored by the owners of WW Ranch, Steve & Charlotte Williams, at a local brewery club, and a warm send-off for the final bus trip back to College Station, TX.
Hopefully the support of people and programs like these will continue to encourage young veterinarians to make the choice to provide care for our nation’s food animals. Whether you drink milk, wear a sweater, or eat the occasional BLT, your life is affected by the direction their lives take.