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KY focused on shortage of large-animal veterinarians

FRANKFORT (Feb. 3, 2023) – A working group, made up of agriculture industry stakeholders, has been named to begin its task of looking for solutions to the state’s large animal vet shortage, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles has announced.

“This shortage of large animal veterinarians in Kentucky and throughout the nation has already started impacting the farmer and could impact our food source in the future,” Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles said. “This creates a significant concern for farmers being able to access adequate animal care to keep their herds and flocks healthy. The working group brings together the brightest agriculture minds to find solutions to the issues at hand and improve the services farmers need.”

Nationwide, a shortage of large animal veterinarians is creating a negative impact

as farmers search to find the veterinary care they need for their animals.

Officials say large animal veterinarians are essential to the protection of the nation’s food supply. Only 5 percent of veterinarians in the U.S. practice on large animals. The other 95 percent have turned to companion animal practices, research, or regulatory. In Kentucky, large animal veterinarians make up an even smaller percentage. Only about 3 percent of veterinarians in the state have dedicated large animal practices.

Last year, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, led by Commissioner Quarles, invited industry stakeholders to participate in two discussion meetings to discover reasons for the vet shortage and possible solutions. The idea for a working group was developed out of these discussions.

Following up on that plan, Commissioner Quarles has formulated the working group. Those named to the group and who they represent include:

-- Glen Sellers, Auburn University

-- Dr. Debbie Reed, Breathitt Veterinary Center and Murray State University

-- Dr. Gordon Jones, Kentucky Agriculture Development Board

-- Dustin Blosser, Kentucky Alternative Livestock Association

-- Dr. Andy Roberts, Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners

-- Dr. Tim Gardner, Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners

-- Dave Maples, Kentucky Cattlemen Association

-- Dr. Charles Townsend, Kentucky Dairy Development Council

-- Sharon Furches, Kentucky Farm Bureau

-- Erin Klarer, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority

-- Sarah E. Coleman, Kentucky Horse Council

-- Caleb Ragland, Kentucky Livestock Coalition and Kentucky Soybean Association

-- Dennis Liptrap, Kentucky Pork Producers

-- Aaron Miller, Kentucky Poultry Federation

-- Dr. Beth Johnson, Kentucky Sheep & Goat Development Office

-- Dr. Jon Laster, Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association

-- Randall Evans DVM, Lincoln Memorial University

-- Mark Reding, State Board of Agriculture

-- Dr. James "Jamie" Matthew, UK College of Agriculture and UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

-- Dr. Andrea Sexten, Eastern Kentucky University

During the discussions last year, stakeholders listed some of the reasons for the shortages including:

-- Salaries – Large animal veterinarians often make less on average than those in other areas.

-- Debt load – The average debt for a graduating veterinarian is more than $200,000.

-- Burnout – Long work hours, strenuous work, and unpredictable schedules have driven many large animal veterinarians from the field to find work in other vet areas.

-- Retirements – Almost 40 percent of the large animal veterinarians in Kentucky are within 10 years of retirement.

The stakeholder meetings last year also identified possible solutions the working group will further explore. These include, but are not limited to:

-- Changes to current loan programs and potentially new opportunities offered by state and federal government to assist with student debt and beginning a practice.

-- Incentives programs to encourage and recruit graduating veterinarians to enter into large animal practices in a rural or underserved area.

-- Develop programs to introduce young people to opportunities as a veterinarian early in their education through organizations, such as 4-H, FFA, and career tracks in schools

-- Review the criteria for admittance to veterinarian schools to see if changes might identify individuals more likely to choose this area of veterinary careers.

The group’s first organizational meeting is set for late February. The group is expected to meet throughout 2023 to further define the solutions, develop action plans, and set benchmarks to measure success.

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