Forty-nine veterinarians will soon be serving in rural communities across 26 states thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent announcement of $4.5 million in loan repayment awards.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides up to $75,000 in student loan reimbursement to public health and food animal veterinarians willing to serve in shortage areas around the country for three years. These veterinarians provide essential veterinary services in the areas of food safety, epidemiology, diagnostic medicine and public health, which are crucial for America’s agricultural community.
Veterinarians choosing to establish practices in rural America may face difficult challenges related to fixed-asset costs, building a client base, establishing support networks and acquiring start-up capital,. The VMLRP awards are an incentive to help these veterinarians overcome some of these challenges by directly paying down student loan debt. In 2014, educational debt for all veterinary school graduates averaged $135,283, whereas starting salary for veterinarians that same year averaged $67,214. Of course, starting salary varies by region and type of practice—from about $73,000 for food animal exclusive practice, $70,000 for food animal predominate and about $60,000 for mixed animal and public practice.
This is the sixth year NIFA has held a competitive award cycle. During this time, nearly 1,000 veterinarians have competed for 313 awards.
The AVMA was instrumental in instigating the program’s establishment in 2003, when Congress authorized the program. Now, the association advocates for a bill, the VMLRP Enhancement Act (S. 440/H.R. 3095), which would remove the 39 percent withholding tax on the awards. This tax is not on the VMLRP’s counterpart program for human health, the National Health Service Corps’ Loan Repayment Program. If the tax were removed, 104 more awards could have been made to veterinarians serving in needy areas over the past six years.
To date, 285 veterinarians have participated in the program. See an online map of where veterinarians are serving as part of the VMLRP on NIFA’s website. Learn more about the VMLRP, including reading stories from recent participants, on AVMA’s website.