The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) awarded more than $4.3 million to 48 U.S. veterinarians to help repay a portion of their veterinary school loans in return for serving in areas lacking sufficient veterinary resources critical to America's food safety, food security and the health and well-being of animals and humans. The awards, made through NIFA's Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), will fill shortage needs in 27 states.
"Veterinarians play a critical role in keeping our nation's food supply safe and animals healthy," NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy said. "The need for veterinarians in designated shortage areas is urgent. This loan repayment assistance program provides incentives for students to take up rural veterinary practices and help take care of American livestock."
Studies indicate that there are significant shortages of food animal veterinarians in certain areas of the nation and in high-priority specialty sectors that require advanced training, such as food safety, epidemiology, diagnostic medicine and public health. A leading cause for this shortage is the high cost of professional veterinary medical training that leaves current graduates of veterinary colleges with student loan debt of, on average, more than $135,000.
New award recipients commit to practice at least three years in a designated veterinary shortage area. Loan repayment benefits are limited to payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial educational loans received for attendance at an American Veterinary Medical Assn.-accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a doctor of veterinary medicine degree or the equivalent.
This is the fourth year NIFA has made renewal awards through VMLRP. Previous awardees who still owe at least $15,000 in educational loans are eligible to apply again, though renewal is not automatic and applications are subject to the same competitive review process as new applications.
In 2016, NIFA received 187 applications and made 48 awards totaling $4,391,144 in benefits. These include 38 new awards totaling $3,563,989 and 10 renewal awards totaling $827,155. New veterinarians who received degrees within the last three years account for 47.4% of new loan recipients.
Participants are required to serve in one of three types of shortage situations. Type 1 shortage areas are private practices dedicated to food animal medicine for at least 80% of the award recipient's time. Type 2 shortages are private practices in rural areas dedicated to food animal veterinary services for at least 30% of the time. Type 3 shortage areas are dedicated to public practice, and awardees must commit at least 49% of their time. The new VMLRP awards include 11 Type 1 awards, 32 Type 2 awards and five Type 3 awards.
A map of veterinary service shortage areas by state is available online.
Since the program was implemented in 2010, more than 300 veterinarians have helped fill shortage situations in 46 states. Two recent participants — Idaho-based veterinarian Annie Bowes and Kentucky-based veterinarian Tim VanDerPloeg — talk about the program's impact online at Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Pays Dividends.