ND’s number of rural vets dwindlingGRAND FORKS – A shortage of food animal veterinarians in the U.S. is not expected to turn around anytime soon and could have implications for the quality of the nation’s food supply.
By: Pamela Knudson, Forum Communications, INFORUM
GRAND FORKS – A shortage of food animal veterinarians in the U.S. is not expected to turn around anytime soon and could have implications for the quality of the nation’s food supply.
In areas where there are too few veterinarians overseeing the health of too much livestock, some vets say there’s an increased risk that animal diseases can spread.
Food animal vets do a lot more than treat sick farm animals. They’re on the front lines for catching disease and stopping it from spreading to other animals – and people – and are vital to food safety. They also play a critical role in agricultural economics: Healthier livestock means more money for farmers.
In Minnesota, several rural areas have a shortage of veterinarians who work with livestock, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In North Dakota, “there’s definitely a need for vets” in underserved and rural areas, said Neil Dyer, director of the veterinary diagnostic lab at North Dakota State University. He advises students in the school’s pre-veterinary medicine program.
The problem is more acute in central and western North Dakota, which has more livestock and bigger gaps in availability of veterinary services, he said.
In those areas, “smaller communities struggle to keep a full-time vet in-house.”
Nationwide, only 17 percent of vets work in food animal medicine, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
There’s “definitely” a shortage, said Charlotte Klose, a veterinarian who has practiced for 16 years in Park River, N.D.
“It’s hard work and long hours, and the pay probably isn’t what people think it is. It’s harder to get people to go into large-animal veterinarian medicine.”
Being a vet “is not the most glamorous job,” she said. “I say that to my clients when I’m covered with blood and manure. You can’t worry about your nails or your make-up.”
She said the shortage can be explained by the downturn in rural populations generally.
“It’s the same reason our schools are getting smaller.”
The shortage is partly a result of too many students entering the pet care field, said Rene Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
It’s also a matter of economics.
“The reality is that communities may not have enough caseload to support a vet,” said Charlie Stoltenow, extension veterinarian at NDSU and board president of the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association.
Walter Moskop of the Minneapolis Star Tribune contributed to this article.
Pamela Knudson writes for the Grand Forks Herald