Across America there is a critical shortage of qualified veterinarians working in rural areas. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture needs veterinarians to work in 150 areas designated as underserved and states that qualified veterinarians are “critical to the national food safety and food security infrastructures, and to the health and well being of both animals and humans.”
Whilst many students may imagine qualifying and establishing a country practice, working with farm animals and cattle, the reality is that student loan debt equates to around $130,000 to $140,000 when both undergraduate costs and veterinary school costs are totalled. As rural veterinary medicine pays far less than city work veterinarians gravitate to city work in order to be better placed to repay their student loan debt. Thus dreams of the rural lifestyle are replaced with the reality of tending to pampered pooches in the city, and tending to small domestic animals.
In order to address the critical shortage of rural veterinarians the US Department of Agriculture offers the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) which is not only open to newly qualified veterinarians but also open to experienced veterinarians who still carry more than $15,000 of student loan debt. The program requires 3 years service and will repay up to $25,000 per year in student loan debt. It covers any postgraduate student loan debt, both federal and private, which was acquired in pursuit of a degree in veterinary medicine. Those who qualify are able to renew their application at the end of 3 years and work within the program until their student loan debt is paid off.
To meet eligibility requirements you need to possess a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from an accredited college and have qualified student loan debt of at least $15,000. The program lists the critical areas where veterinarians are needed and it is up to the veterinarian to secure employment in a designated area, or establish a practice there, within 90 days of the award being granted. Those who are already working in such an area may also apply if they have qualifying debt.
Those who have already consolidated student loans are still eligible to have the portion of the consolidated debt repaid which was used to cover tuition and living costs whilst obtaining the degree in veterinary medicine, but loans which have been consolidated with non student loans are not eligible.
The VMLRP program is an excellent opportunity to both reduce student loan debt quickly and to establish oneself as a rural veterinarian. Those who entered the field with dreams of working in rural areas and working with all types of animals have the chance to fulfil their dreams through this program.