A Superhero Shortage—More Veterinarians Needed in Rural Areas

We grew up on a farm during the era of the first Batman and Superman TV versions, but an early superhero for us was the rural veterinarian. As an eight-year-old, I watched Doc Walker perform his own type of CSI in our north grove where the pigs roamed. A 250-pound barrow had mysteriously collapsed and died. Doc pulled out his implements, and we kids stared as he cut and probed in the fading light. He finally determined that the hog had eaten from a deadly nightshade plant—a rare occurrence and cryptic enough to get us buzzing about poisons.
Later that year, I saw Doc do a cesarean on a neighbor’s sow. Blood, pulsating innards, slime-covered newborn pigs—I had plenty of details to use during the classroom show-and-tell session the next day at school.
For rural veterinarians, these performances were all part of the routine, and as Dad reminded me, country vets back then held the farming community together. “It was more than the sensational episodes that made the vet important. They helped us during the hog cholera epidemics of the past, and when various vaccinations came on the market, they kept our herds protected.”
With the changes in technology and farming practices, the particular skills needed for a large animal veterinarian have widened, but their main mission is similar. They help the producers raise safe, wholesome animals, and they play a key role in protecting the health of the general public. As this article points out, they are the first line of defense against diseases that can spread from animals to humans.
Many rural areas in the United States face a severe shortage of veterinarians–especially ones who specialize in livestock. Federal officials are taking some steps to close this gap. The USDA reports that only 5 to 8% of graduating veterinarians join private practices with an emphasis on food animals. Some hope that a bipartisan Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act could help with the problem.  
During the past few years, young people have been showing more interest in agriculture-related professions, and officials hope this trend affects the veterinary field also. Rural communities, livestock producers, and anyone who eats should hope young people can combine intelligence, a love of animals, and enough tuition money to make it through veterinary school and on to large animal practice.
Maybe they can be lured in by the glamor involved with getting a sick bull to take its medicine or sticking a gloved hand “where the sun don’t shine” to help during a difficult birth. As Dad recalls, “There was old Doc, working hard in the muck, vaccinating young hogs for erysipelas, and what was his reward—a pig he was holding sent a strong stream of urine straight into the top of his rain boot.” Maybe we should add “sense of humor” to that list of characteristics for prospective veterinarians.
by dan gogerty (top pic from newenglandgrassfed.com and bottom pic from publicbroadcasting.net)

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