Published On: Tue, Feb 20th, 2018

The AVMA is asking for Congress Help to Tackle Vet Shortages

The American Veterinary Medical Association is asking Congress for help tackling a shortage of veterinarians, especially in rural areas. And according to reports, the issue is even more serious when it comes to vets capable of handling large livestock. Let’s look at the solutions the AVMA is seeking, as well as the underlying causes for the vet shortage in the first place.

An Overview of the Problem

The USDA’s own research states that 187 areas have a shortage of veterinarians. Many vets who are coming into the profession are qualified to treat pets, but not large livestock since this allows them to work in any metropolitan and semi-rural area and earn a good living doing it.

The economics of a vet degree also prevent many from working in rural areas. The typical new vet as of 2016 graduated with an average $144,000 in debt; they cannot afford to work for the lower pay rate they’d get from farmers and ranchers when working with livestock.

photo/ Mary Pahlke

AVMA’s Requests

The AVMA has asked Congress to pass the Veterinary Medicine Loan Program Enhancement Act; it is Senate Bill 487 and House Resolution 1268. The VMLRPEA would offer student loan forgiveness for vets who work for at least three years in underserved areas. In this regard, the program mirrors the existing program that offered student loan forgiveness for those who worked for at least ten years in civil service or for non-profits.

The student loan forgiveness program for vets isn’t new. However, its effectiveness is limited by an extra income tax withholding used to repay the government. The VMLRPEA would eliminate this tax so that those in the program essentially earn comparable wages to those working in more lucrative areas, literally or figuratively. Congress would have to change the current program so that the funding for this vet program is paid out of general funds instead of by the vets it is trying to lure into these underserved areas.

The AVMA’s projections state that if the tax were eliminated, hundreds more vets would participate. This is because funding for the program is far short of the demand of new vets who want to participate since the program pays up to $25,000 per year towards student loans.

The Intermediate Solutions

Congress may or may not take up the proposed changes in the program to give more vets student loan forgiveness. This means veterinary medicine will have to take a page from the book medicine has been following. In medicine, we’re seeing nurse practitioners take the place of doctors. Demand is high and supply steady since the AMA capped the number of medical school slots in the nineties.

Likewise, we’ve seen an expansion in the use of vet techs filling the same role in veterinary practices. If you attend one of the best vet tech schools in your area, you’ll be able to fill one of these good-paying jobs and find employment almost anywhere.


The AVMA is still expecting Congress to come up with a solution to the current crisis. They’re hoping that the Veterinary Medicine Loan Program Enhancement Act will be able to reverse the trend and attract more vets to underserved areas.

Author: Carol Trehearn

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