USDA awards $7M for loan repayment to address shortage areas

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The Department of Agriculture announced in late November that 74 food animal and public health veterinarians will receive educational loan assistance in exchange for a three-year service commitment to practice in a USDA-designated veterinary shortage area.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded $7.1 million through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to awardees who will fill shortage areas in 30 jurisdictions. The program helps qualified veterinarians offset up to $75,000 of debt incurred during veterinary school in return for three years of work in certain high-priority areas.

"Ranchers and farmers depend on veterinarians to keep their animals healthy," said Dr. John de Jong, AVMA president, in an AVMA announcement. "Access to veterinary care in rural areas is critical because animal diseases have a direct impact on local economies and public health. The VMLRP is one of the best tools available to help address veterinary shortages, and we're grateful Congress recognized its importance by providing a $1.5 million increase in funding for the program this year."

Since the program's inception in 2010, the VMLRP has made nearly 500 awards to place veterinarians in shortage areas across 45 jurisdictions. Despite the program's success, more than 113 shortage areas remained unfilled in 2018, according to the AVMA announcement.

"Our local veterinarian owned the only large animal clinic in town and was desperate to retire, but he couldn't find a younger veterinarian to take his place," said Dr. Kaki Nicotre, a 2015 VMLRP award recipient based in Clifton, Texas, in the AVMA announcement. "The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program made it possible for me to take over his practice and continue caring for the community's livestock and pets. Now, I've settled down in Clifton and I'm looking forward to treating local animals for years to come."

The AVMA is asking Congress to pass the VMLRP Enhancement Act, which would lift a 39 percent income withholding tax that the USDA pays on the program's awards. By ending this tax, according to the AVMA, Congress could effectively expand the program's reach without needing additional funding.

Dr. Nicotre in the field with a cow
Dr. Kaki Nicotre of Texas received an award in 2015 through the federal Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program for veterinarians working in shortage areas. (Courtesy of Dr. Kaki Nicotre)

Related JAVMA content:

Legislators seek to end tax on veterinary student loan program (May 1, 2017)