CN August September 2023 Vol. 62 Issue 5

CHUTESIDE MANNER Exploring the Frontier of Animal Health

By Patti Wilson, Contributing Editor

Veterinarian Shortage Intensifies

M arty was upset. He had to a scholarship recipient to pay her way through veterinary school. Her practice was going to be small animal only. Marty Moravec, DVM, is not one to let a sleeping dog lie. One of an estimated 10 percent of U.S. veterinarians who serve agriculture, he realizes that the shortage of large-animal practitioners leaves a received a letter from his alma mater asking for a donation deep void that causes major stress among his kind. There is a growing vacuum for service among livestock producers. Some might call it a crisis. This Bassett, Neb., doctor picked up his pen that day. He composed a letter explaining to the dean of the college of veterinary medicine his refusal to support donations to small-animal-only students at his alma mater. It was met shortly with a polite response from a “lower minion” bureaucrat thanking him for his input. Marty had been blown off. What’s Going On? Moravec explains the goings-on at colleges that have contributed to our vet-shortage dilemma. The first was a

Further Issues Veterinary medical school is expensive. It has contributed considerably to the abyss separating food-animal vets and their small-animal counterparts.“On average, vet college graduates leave school with nearly $190,000 in debt,” according to Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, director of continuing education for Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine. A December 19, 2022, article for NPR by Scott Neuman compared out-of- college pay for large-animal practitioners at $85,000, while small-animal vets routinely take jobs right out of school for $100,000 plus a signing bonus. It was explained that buying outright or buying into a practice with a six-figure debt hanging over your head is hard to finance. This hits livestock practitioners especially hard; they are more likely to want their own practice, as many fly solo or have only a few employees. Rural life commands a unique business plan. It is interesting to note that vet school students are now 80 to 90 percent women. Some percolate into large-animal practice, and get along well despite the physical challenges. Most fit more comfortably into small-animal medicine. A June 17, 2019, article in Successful Farming by Betsy Freese credits women having different work-life balance expectations, as well as shorter or interrupted careers. Many work part time. Employment at a large hospital catering to pets with ample staff may fit their needs far easier than being a lone cattle physician in an isolated Sandhills area. She also noted that men may shy away from the veterinary profession more than women, seeing the student debt as something to be avoided.

gradual change in admissions protocol, inadvertently weeding out the best prospects for large-animal practice. He said that veterinary medicine schools have shifted to a grades-only and test score- only method of admission. Understandably, this is not conducive to the majority of students interested in agriculture. Moravec was accepted with typical farm kid credentials. He says that, in 2004, he was admitted to veterinary medical school with “not the best grades.” At that time, interviews were conducted, as well as consideration of grades and test scores. He “moved up the list” because he was well-spoken and had an excellent work ethic. These assets carried weight in the admissions process; “Ag kids have ethics worked into them,” he declares.“It’s the way we are raised. Grades may not be A+ all the way across the board. The best test-takers do not always equal the best vets.” He notes that A students typically wind up in research, while food animal vets are often B and C students (Moravec labels himself a C student). They keep longer hours, tougher schedules and tolerate greater physical risk. Perhaps because they have grown up working in families with farm financing, he says that C students are most likely to be comfortable with handling debt, and are often the owners of clinics and hospitals. B students often work as employees in various health-related businesses when they suffer burnout; C students continue to carry on in the field. Not relying solely on his opinion, Moravec took part in the Executive Veterinarian Program with the University of Illinois. The agenda lasted a year and a half, with classes in Omaha. He says that the last session was geared on the future of veterinary medicine and what to do about shortage issues.


Marty Moravec, DVM


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