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Texas must address veterinarian shortage

Texas must address veterinarian shortage

Texas must address veterinarian shortage

If you’re having trouble getting a vet appointment for your beloved dog or cat, you’re not alone.

There are too many pets and not enough veterinarians across the country and in Texas. It’s a persistent problem that has worsened in the years since the pandemic. As the number of pet owners and shelters has increased, the number of doctors available to care for them has not kept pace.

Nearly 60% of Texas households now have at least one pet, but there are only 5,600 veterinarians in the state. While that’s up from 4,770 in 2019, it’s still not enough.

The shortage of veterinarians is especially acute in rural areas, where livestock farmers struggle to find care not only for their furry friends, but for the very source of their income. The problem may even have public health implications, as veterinarians play a crucial role in detecting early outbreaks of mad cow disease, avian flu and other worrisome diseases.

There is no easy solution to this complex problem. It must be seriously addressed by the private, nonprofit and public sectors alike, which should focus on the main barrier to becoming a veteran: the estimated $200,000 debt that many students face. To pay off those large loans, most graduates seek work in urban areas where wages are higher, meaning rural areas lack them.

Some private companies, such as Mars Veterinary Health, are trying to help. It has pledged $25 million in student debt relief by 2025. More companies should follow suit. The nonprofit Texas Farm Bureau has laudably increased the number of scholarships it awards to high school students seeking degrees in the agricultural and veterinary fields.

The Texas Legislature should also step up its efforts. The Texas Veterinary Medical Association recommends that lawmakers next year fund a new study by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to better understand how the supply of veterinary professionals can be improved. That deserves consideration.

The state has just two veterinary schools. According to the association, Texas A&M University now has a class size of 180, up from 130, and Texas Tech University will graduate its first class of 62 veterinarians in 2025. It’s critical to better understand how all these graduates will address the statewide shortage.

The Legislature should also consider funding the Texas Rural Veterinarian Incentive Program, which offers loan repayment to veterinarians who commit to practicing in rural areas. The association notes that the program was funded with federal COVID-19 relief funds, but those are limited and running out. Allocating $1 million to $2 million in state funds and adjusting some of the program’s rules could shore up this important program for the future.

Texas is a state that loves animals. Whether it’s dogs and cats, cows and sheep, they all deserve adequate, affordable medical care and enough veterinarians to provide it.

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