The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is providing the cash through its Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP). The move is expected to fill shortages in 27 states.
USDA studies indicate there are significant shortages of food animal veterinarians in certain areas of the nation and in high-priority speciality 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, on average, student loan debt of more than $135,000.
“Veterinarians play a critical role in keeping our nation’s food supply safe and animals healthy,” said NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy. “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.”
New award recipients will 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 Association-accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree or the equivalent.
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 at least 80% of the award recipient’s time. Type 2 shortages are private practices in rural areas dedicated to food animal veterinary services 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.
This is the fourth year NIFA has made renewal awards through VMLRP. Previous awardees that 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 totalling $4,391,144 in benefits. These included 38 new awards totalling $3,563,989 and 10 renewal awards totalling $827,155. New veterinarians who received degrees within the last three years account for 47.4% of new loan recipients.