Vet loan program considers applicants
Cheyenne – In response to its shortage of food animal veterinarians, Wyoming began the Wyoming Veterinary Loan Repayment Program in 2008 and will soon award its first funding to qualified applicants.
According to information released by the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB), the average debt load for a new veterinary graduate is $120,000-$170,000 and the starting salary for new graduates in Wyoming is $30-$40,000 per year, which doesn’t allow a decent standard of living as well as loan repayment at the rate of $12-$15,000 per year.
HB 74, sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, provides $270,000 for two years to aid in the repayment of student loans for veterinarians who practice food animal medicine within the state. The WLSB, the Wyoming Veterinary Medical Association and the Wyoming Veterinary Licensing Board oversee the program.
The legislative statute provides loan repayment to Wyoming licensed veterinarians who have practiced food animal medicine in the state for six months. Eligible vets can receive up to $30,000 per year for three years. “Food animals” are defined as cattle, swine, sheep or goats.
The WLSB will select recipients based on the area of the state being served, percentage of food animal practice, the amount of educational expense and whether the recipient has a committed sponsor to provide 25 percent of the grant’s matching funds.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has compiled maps detailing percentages of food animal practices in Wyoming and the underserved areas of the state. However, WLSB contract veterinarian Fred Emerich, who leads the program, says the map isn’t entirely accurate. “It gives a basis but it’s not entirely accurate because not all the licensed food animal veterinarians in the state currently practice,” he says, giving the Pinedale area as an example.
“If we’ve got practitioners in their middle-60s, we’re going to give consideration to a new one coming in to replace that person. We’re going to give thought to replacement and maintenance as well as areas currently without service,” says Emerich.
“We’d like to have these new veterinarians go to underserved areas, but we’re not going to sit down and say they can’t go work in a certain place. The entire state is relatively underserved in terms of food animal veterinarians,” he adds.
Emerich says awarding the funding will be a difficult thing to do, and if there are too many qualified applicants the selection will probably favor University of Wyoming graduates and those going to the areas of Wyoming in most need. “There will be a little bit of subjectiveness in our selection,” he says.
The deadline for 2008 applications closed on Sept. 1 and Emerich says there are seven qualified applications. “The Board will vote on these applications, and the selection is theirs and theirs alone.”
“I think we’re going to come close to funding all the applicants this year,” says Emerich. Applicants may receive up to $30,000 per year for three years if they practice food animal medicine exclusively. However, Emerich says he’s used the AVMA’s guidelines to classify veterinary practices according to exclusive or partial food animal medicine.
“I’ve asked the applicants to classify themselves on a percentage level, and I’ve got three vets that will practice at the 75 percent level,” he says, noting that percentages may be subject to verification. “There are three or four that will practice at the 50 percent level.”
Grants will be awarded according to the percentage level, meaning that a 50 percent food animal veterinarian could receive up to $15,000 per year, for example. “By awarding the grants by percentage we can fund a few more applicants,” says Emerich. “With 100 percent funding we could only help three. In addition, nobody in the state does 100 percent food animals. They all do a at least a dog or a cat here and there.”
According to WLSB information, if the Board can place or keep four to six veterinarians a year for the next two years there is hope the shortage of food animal service can be addressed in Wyoming.
The AVMA’s maps of food animal veterinarians in Wyoming can be found online at www.avma.org/fsvm/maps/wy.asp. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.