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Task force looking for solutions to Kentucky’s large-animal veterinarian shortage starts its work

A task force charged with finding solutions to Kentucky’s large-animal veterinarian shortage met in Frankfort this week at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

“This shortage of large animal veterinarians is not just a Kentucky issue, it’s something we’re facing nationwide,” Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles said. “But in Kentucky, we’re one of the few states who are facing the challenge head on by creating this task force to look for solutions. The shortage of veterinarians to treat our agricultural animals is affecting farmers and may soon begin affecting our food supply. This 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. 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.

The Veterinary Shortage Working Group consists of industry stakeholders, including veterinarians, individuals in the educational and medical agricultural field, various livestock associations representatives, the Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky Higher Education Assistant Authority, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

It was formed after the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, led by Commissioner Quarles, invited industry stakeholders to participate in two discussion meetings concentrated on the issues surrounding the vet shortage.

The group will look at some of the issues identified during the stakeholder meetings last year that may be creating a vet shortage. Some of the possible reasons for the shortages include:

• 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 group’s first organizational meeting was in February. The group heard a presentation from the Farm Journal Foundation, a non-profit foundation dedicated to global food security. The Foundation brings together stakeholders from across the agricultural spectrum – from students, to farmers, to policymakers – to find solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the food and agricultural chain.

In addition to hearing from the Farm Journal Foundation, the group also formed committees focused on the different aspects of the shortage and had breakout session.

The sessions focused on the many phases of veterinarians, including:

• Developing a strong pipeline of Kentucky students to veterinary school;
• Kentucky’s role in assisting students find opportunities in veterinary school;
• Kentucky’s role to attract veterinary school graduates to rural and large animal practice; and
• How to keep veterinarians in rural and large animal practice
The working group is expected to meet three more times throughout 2023, with committees meeting taking place in between the group meetings, to further define the solutions, develop action plans, and set benchmarks to measure success. A final report from the group’s findings is expected to be available in November.

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