POLK COUNTY, Fla. — There’s a national shortage of veterinarians specializing in large animals.

  • Shortage of large animal veterinarians could impact US food supply
  • One said says job can be physical, dangerous & costly to study
  • Rescue group giving college students chance to get hands-on experience

Limited access to adequate veterinary care increases the potential of disease infiltrating livestock farms, which could impact our nation’s food supply.

It’s an issue Hope Equine Rescue sought to address, by allowing pre-veterinarian students at Florida Southern College and Hillsborough Community College onto its campus, so they could get hands-on experience in the field.

“This is really cool. I never micro-chipped a horse before. And that was really exciting. So I’m excited to keep going,” said Amy Clark, a Florida Southern College student, referring to her desire to become a veterinarian who specializes in large animals.

Clark said she owns a horse back home in Pennsylvania where she’s from.

Polk County is one of the counties experiencing a shortage of large animal vets, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Dr. LuJean Waters said it’s because the job is very physical and dangerous and costly to study.

“What’s driving the shortage I believe is the cost of going to school. It’s just so expensive to go to veterinary school. Students are having to take out hundreds of thousands in student loan debt,” said Dr. LuJean Waters. “Unfortunately, large animal veterinarians make a portion of what small animal veterinarians make, who make a portion of what MDs, dentists, and chiropractors make.”

She said the pay is around $30-40,000 starting out, much less than a veterinarian caring for dogs and cats. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a veterinarian in Florida was $100,140 in 2017, and $69,370 nationally.

“Because we make so much less than what other physicians make, it’s very hard to pay back those student loan debts,” Waters said.

The federal government has a veterinary medicine loan repayment program, in order to entice more people to enter the field.

“I apply every single year. It has lots of stipulations on where you went to school, how you practice and where you practice and filling out the application to a T and that makes it difficult so we are continually trying to get that,” Dr. Waters said.

Dr. Waters said something needs to be done, because our society needs large animal vets in order to protect our food supply.

“In order for us to do our job to make sure that the meat that we eat is safe, we need our veterinarians to come together for us and there is just not a lot of large animal veterinarians to help protect the meat and so it is a huge area of need,” Waters said.

According to the USDA, the veterinary medicine loan repayment program pays up to up to $75,000 in loan repayment in exchange for serving at least three years in a federally-designated shortage area.

There are openings for the program in manatee Osceola, Polk and Hillsborough, and Manatee counties.