Farm Journal Foundation is partnering with the Zoetis Foundation to launch a new program to surface solutions for relieving student debt in the veterinary industry, with the long-term goal of addressing shortages of veterinarians to work with farmers in rural areas.

The new Veterinary Debt Solutions Program will convene leaders from across the livestock, academic, nonprofit and veterinary sectors to address barriers that veterinarians face in building long-term careers in rural areas. High levels of student debt, combined with comparatively lower rural salaries and demanding workloads, discourage many young and diverse professionals from specializing in large animal veterinary science and entering the workforce, particularly in underserved rural areas.

“The lack of veterinarians in many rural areas to support the livestock industry poses risks to farming livelihoods and ultimately our food supply,” said Tricia Beal, chief executive officer of Farm Journal Foundation. “We are grateful to the Zoetis Foundation for their vision and partnership to address this important issue.”

The veterinary profession is currently experiencing an urban-rural divide, with only about 10% of final-year veterinary students expressing an interest in working with livestock after graduation, according to survey data from the American Veterinary Medical Association. As a result, about 500 counties across the U.S. now face shortages of veterinarians, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture–creating challenges for the livestock industry and inhibiting rural economic growth. More veterinarians are also needed to support government agencies on a range of issues, including inspection and disease control. 

"Empowering an inclusive and thriving veterinary community starts long before the first day of training and classes. The Zoetis Foundation is proud to partner with Farm Journal Foundation to surface new solutions for veterinary debt relief and help ensure access to high-quality veterinary care for livestock in rural areas," said Jeannette Ferran Astorga, president of the Zoetis Foundation and executive vice president, Corporate Affairs, Communications and Sustainability at Zoetis.

Getting sound policy in place to help relieve student debt for rural practitioners is a first step toward improving workforce development and the overall viability of the sector. The Veterinary Debt Solutions Program will work with academic experts to research the causes and solutions for current challenges, and coalition leaders will make concrete recommendations that will then be taken to policymakers by a select group of livestock farmers and veterinary professionals, under Farm Journal Foundation’s new Veterinary Ambassadors program.