OLYMPIA, Wash. - Rural areas of Washington need more doctors, but an equally critical issue that has received far less attention is their need for more veterinarians. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is asking new veterinarians to make food animals their focus, and is offering a program
that will repay student loans up to $75,000 for those who commit to practicing in rural counties for at least three years.
Becoming a veterinarian costs about $100,000. Washington State Veterinarian Dr. Leonard Eldridge says that's why a lot of new graduates choose to work in big cities: to chip away at their college debt.
"It's all about economics; they've got to be able to make enough money to repay their loans. It's hard to do in an agriculture practice or in outlying areas. The urban pet animal practice is much more lucrative."
Eldridge says rural vets play vital roles in public health and livestock disease prevention, which also keeps the agriculture industry profitable in the state.
"Basically, we depend upon them to report to us any signs or symptoms that might be suspicious for all reportable diseases. It's a tremendous service to the community. And, of course, they're my eyes and ears out there."
The USDA isn't just handing out money. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is a competitive grant process. The deadline to apply is July 8, and the grant winners will be announced in September. Five veterinarians will be selected to practice in Washington.
More information and applications are available at www.csrees.usda.gov