Action seeks to address veterinarian shortage in Iowa
LISBON, Iowa (AP) – Like most rural vets, Dr. Alana McNutt is a jack of all trades.
Earlier this week, she performed hysterectomies on two cats and two dogs before loading her pickup to a farm near Lisbon where she vaccinated and provided other care for 1,000-pound cattle. .
And because it’s calving season, McNutt, 35, is ready for emergency calls when a mom cow, goat or sheep is having trouble giving birth.
“The biggest challenge an animal vet faces is that a certain percentage has to be emergency work,” she said of vets who treat both pets and farm animals. .
According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, there is a shortage of mixed animal and farm animal vets across the country due to unpredictable hours and the need to live in rural areas.
To recruit more rural vets – critically important in a state that is the world’s largest producer of pigs and eggs – the Iowa legislature has proposed repaying student loans for vets working in an underserved area. for four years.
“The important thing in Iowa is that we are the largest animal breeding state in the United States, so it is very important that vets and farmers take care of these animals,” said Dr. Randy Wheeler, executive director of the Iowa Veterinary Medicine Association.
House File 2615 provides up to $ 15,000 per year, up to $ 60,000 over four years, in loan repayments to at least five veterinarians per year who commit to service in rural areas of the state. To be eligible, veterinarians must treat “food” animals or focus on food safety, epidemiology, public health, or animal health.
If approved, the program would need a credit of $ 300,000 per year, said Representative Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt, who is responsible for the bill.
“We discussed with Rep. Kerr the possibility of putting money into the education budget for this,” Mommsen said, referring to David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, who chairs the subcommittee. credits for education. “It’s not a done deal, (but) there seems to be a consensus, it’s a necessary thing.”
A state program would complement the federal veterinary loan repayment program, in which the United States Department of Agriculture pays up to $ 25,000 annually for education loans to veterinarians who agree to serve in an area designated shortage for three years.
For this program, Iowa has identified seven counties with shortages: Carroll, Cedar, Cherokee, Humboldt, Jasper, Jefferson and Union counties.
Graduates from the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine are leaving with an average debt of $ 142,000, according to an article by Dave Gieseke published last fall in the college’s Gentle Doctor magazine. Average starting salaries in Iowa are around $ 70,000, but the perception is that rural salaries are on the low end.
Dr. Rachel DeSotel, 32, of Kalona, graduated from Kansas State University Veterinary School in 2014 with approximately $ 250,000 in debt.
She has applied for the federal loan repayment program three times and was turned down each time, despite working in rural Washington County, which qualifies because it is adjacent to Jefferson County.
“Only a number of them are going to get it from the federal level,” she said. “There are a lot of counties and a lot of vets who need help, all vying for some awards.”
The Nauvoo, Ill. Native chose to work for Schlapkohl’s Veterinary Services in Kalona because she fell in love with the community and enjoys caring for the dairy goats and draft horses owned by many farmers. amish.
But persuading young veterinary school graduates to move to rural areas can be a tough sell, especially if they also need to find work for a spouse, Wheeler said.
About 40% of ISU’s 2020-2022 graduates are on the academic track to care for pets, such as cats and dogs, the ISU reported. Another 35 percent plan to work in a mixed animal practice, while only 18 percent say they will focus on food animals, including cattle and pigs.
Wheeler, who worked as a mixed animal veterinarian for 30 years, said he has seen veterinary practices in urban areas develop as rural offices consolidate. This means that if there is an animal emergency, a veterinarian may have to drive 30 minutes to an hour versus 15 minutes to provide treatment.
When vets are on a farm more frequently, they are more likely to spot sick animals before the animals infect the rest of the barn, Wheeler said. “Lay people can castrate and decorate, but they don’t always recognize if an animal is sick,” he said.
McNutt, who grew up in Tipton and is the daughter of veterinarian Dr Jim McNutt, purchased Tipton Veterinary Services in 2018 with her husband Dr John Prickett. They are struggling to hire two new vets, she said.
“Personally, I want to strive for a good work-life balance and you can’t do that if you’re on call 24/7,” said the mother of two young children. “The only way to do that is to spread your workload by hiring more vets. “