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UMDI report on veterinary medicine in New England

Currently, the nation and region are confronting a potential shortage of veterinarians as recent graduates are often struggling with education debts of more than $100,000. Practicing veterinarians “say they’ve been looking for one (a new doctor) for three months, and when they do get a response, it’s a new graduate with ridiculous salary demands,” states Dr. Charlotte M. Newell, associate professor of veterinary sciences at Becker College.

While the shortage may not be obvious to people in populated areas, the shortage is a real concern in the farming and industry fields, as well as the 3.3 billion dollar role veterinarians play in New England’s economy, according to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute. The study estimates a possible shortage of 658 veterinarians in New England by 2014. Dr. Michael D. Goodman, UMass Donahue Institute Director of economic and public policy research, suggests that New England must encourage young people to pursue higher education for the specialized and skilled jobs of the future. “The changes we’re facing going forward, not just in veterinary medicine but in a whole host of professions, will require us to be more proactive.”

2,650 students entered veterinary colleges last year. New England is host to only one of 28 veterinary colleges in the country, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, which typically enrolls about 80 new students yearly. The average bill paid by a first year student, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, was $36,914 for in-state tuition rates and $52, 831 for nonresident rates. After graduation, a veterinarian’s pay can range from $79,000 in private practice to $133,000 for those that work in industrial jobs.

The UMass Donahue Institute report estimates that aging is affecting the shortages, estimating that New England could have 13 food animal veterinarian vacancies by 2014 due to retirement alone. The report also suggested that New England could have 25 t o 55 vacancies for laboratory animal veterinarians by 2014. “There’s no question that there is an incredible need for animal testing,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives president and chief executive, “you’re going to work on animals and test before you do clinical trials.”

Congress is considering legislation seeking $1.5 billion over 10 years to support an expansion at U.S. veterinary colleges, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently setting regulations for a $1.8 billion program to repay education loans to veterinarians who agree to work in underserved regions and fields. Some states have also launched programs encouraging veterinarians to work in rural areas.

“The average student debt is running now about $106,000. That is a tremendous amount of money when you look at the amount of money they have to repay on a monthly basis and you look at the salaries some of these areas are offering,” said Dr. Mark T. Lutschaunig, director of the governmental relations division for the American Veterinary Medicine Association. “In many cases, you have students that would like to stay in a rural area or stay in an area that’s right now underserved, but they can’t do it because right now they can’t afford to do it.”

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