Why it's harder to find a country vet | Living the Country Life

Why it's harder to find a country vet

Rural communities can't or won't pay
Bob Freese, DVM, treats a cow for pinkeye near Indianola, Iowa

In recent years, the focus of the veterinary profession has shifted from farm animal health to companion animal care. A new report from the National Research Council explores the veterinary work force, including in critical fields such as infectious disease control, farm animal and food animal health, and biosecurity.

A few key findings:

  • Although there are no widespread shortages of veterinarians overall, some sectors are struggling to find well-qualified candidates, even when offering high salaries.
  • Growing demands for animal products are putting stress on agricultural systems and increasing populations of food animals.
  • Increasing consumption of animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs has led to the consolidation of food-animal production to fewer but much larger farms—and has also altered demand for veterinary services in the care of livestock, poultry and swine. To increase the economic value of veterinary services to food producers, the education of food-animal practitioners should be reoriented towards herd health and interventions aimed at improving the financial health of the farm operation.
  • Primary veterinary services are still needed in rural areas, but often these communities cannot financially support positions for full-time food animal veterinarians, leaving gaps in animal care and raising concerns about the level of animal disease surveillance in the field. The veterinary profession should formulate new ways of delivering cost-effective services to rural America, using veterinary technicians to extend animal health services to underserved areas.   
  • The public sector has unfilled positions for veterinarians who have specialized training in epidemiology, food safety, wildlife and ecosystem health, and public health, but these jobs typically offer salaries much lower than those in the private sector, and cannot attract the top candidates.   
  • Veterinary school curricula have focused on companion animal care, while other subjects such as infectious diseases, public health, and environmental toxicology have received less emphasis. This threatens the profession’s ability to maintain robust research programs and advance basic veterinary knowledge.

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