U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) introduced legislation yesterday that will expand the workforce of veterinarians who are specialized in the care and conservation of wild animals and their ecosystems, and will provide grants to educational institutions that seek to develop curricula and training programs that are focused on the field of wildlife and zoological veterinary medicine. The bill—H.R. 2796, the Wildlife Veterinarians Employment and Training (VETs) Act—calls for a reduction in the amount of educational debt incurred by veterinary students who plan to practice in the fields of wildlife and zoological medicine. It will also create new positions for clinical and research veterinarians in those areas of expertise.
“AVMA is pleased to see Rep. Hastings introduce this important legislation once again in the 113th Congress,” said Dr. Clark K. Fobian, D.V.M. and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “AVMA is firmly committed to the concept of One Health—a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines, including veterinary medicine, working locally, nationally and internationally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment—which is why it is pivotal that we continue supporting the training and education of the nation’s wildlife and zoological veterinarians who research, detect and control diseases for the safety and health of the public and animals. Having obtained my undergraduate degree in wildlife biology, I know the critical role that wildlife and zoological veterinarians play in managing U.S. wildlife populations, responding to environmental and man-made disasters that affect animals, and conserving endangered, threatened and sensitive species. The Wildlife VETs Act is an important tool that ensures the continuation of recruiting, training and providing jobs to these highly specialized veterinarians who play such an important role in supporting the ecosystem.”
“Veterinarians specializing in the care of wild animals and ecosystems require specialized training,” said Congressman Hastings. “This means more school and more student debt. They will likely make less than their veterinary counterparts in other areas of medicine, and therefore we need to level the playing field for these students who want to pursue a career in wildlife and zoological medicine. That is why I have reintroduced the Wildlife Veterinarians Employment and Training (VETs) Act, and urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.”
Veterinary students face an ever-increasing amount of educational debt upon graduation. In 2012, the mean educational indebtedness of veterinary graduates was $151,672, which is an increase of 98 percent since 2003 when the mean educational debt was $76,558. As a result, many veterinary students who are interested in practicing wildlife and/or zoological medicine end up choosing different fields of study or practice where the average starting salaries may be higher, there are more positions available and they do not require additional years of specialized training.
H.R. 2796 will provide access to loan repayment options and scholarships for veterinary students who choose to practice in this specialized field, alleviating some of the financial burdens these students face. It will also increase the number of positions available for wildlife and zoological positions upon graduation.