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AVMA tackles veterinary shortage with new program

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), as part of its ongoing effort to boost the number of food animal veterinarians in the US, introduces an educational debt relief program for those veterinarians whose job it is to keep food animals healthy and the food supply safe.

The Food Animal Veterinarian Recruitment and Retention Program, a joint effort of the AVMA and its charitable arm, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, and funded by several industry partners, will provide financial incentives in the form of student loan debt forgiveness for veterinarians who commit to 4 years of employment in food animal veterinary medicine.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, says the pilot program comes at a time when the federal government is also recognising the critical role food animal veterinarians play in protecting our food animals, our food supply and our economic and national security. The US Department of Agriculture recently announced that a similar federal program, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, will soon begin accepting applications.

"The AVMA has been working on Capitol Hill for years to generate attention, pass legislation and fund programs that would directly address the food animal veterinarian shortage, and we are very pleased that the federal loan repayment program is seeing the light of day," Dr. DeHaven said. "But we also know that we can't rely solely on government funding... That's why we worked to develop the Food Animal Veterinarian Recruitment and Retention Program. It's a wonderful complement to the federal program, and being able to announce that the program is up and running is a testament to our industry partners and their commitment to helping turn the tide."

According to AVMA membership data, about half of all food animal veterinarians are over the age of 50 and at the cusp of retirement. At the same time, only about 15% of veterinary school graduates are pursuing that career path, most of whom have an average of $120,000 in educational debt. At that rate, recent studies indicate that the supply of veterinarians working in food safety will fall short by 4-5% annually through 2016.

"Food supply veterinarians are the guardians of our nation's food supply from both a health and safety perspective. In fact, they will be the very first medical professionals to diagnose and contain animal diseases that could threaten the human population," Dr. DeHaven said. "We're facing an impending crisis, and action is required to make sure that our country has enough of these professionals working for the benefit of society."

Depending on demand and the availability of future funds, the new AVMA program seeks to support about 50 rural food animal veterinarians annually over the next 5 years by providing total payments for each practitioner of up to $100,000 that can be applied to student loan debt.

Natalie Berkhout

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