Loan repayment program to benefit recent grads in Colorado

October 16, 2018

State program will help repay veterinary debt for students going into large-animal medicine.

CSU veterinary student Jennifer Milner treats calves at Morning Fresh Dairy in Bellvue, Colo. Image courtesy of Joe A. Mendoza, Colorado State University

Colorado, like many livestock-producing states across the country, is experiencing a lack of rural veterinarians, officials say. One-third of Colorado's 64 counties lack the veterinarians needed to care for the sheep, hogs, dairy cattle and beef cattle essential to food production and the well-being of rural communities, according to a release from Colorado State University.


In order to combat the veterinary shortage, a new state program, with staff support from Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is helping to repay college debt for veterinarians who pledge to practice livestock medicine in underserved agricultural communities.


According to the AVMA, educational debt for veterinary school graduates is nearly $144,000 with more than 20 percent of recent veterinary graduates surpassing $200,000 in debt. With this sky-high debt hanging over their heads, recent graduates who want to practice large-animal medicine in rural communities can't afford to do so, the release states.


“Much of rural Colorado is a long way from a practicing veterinarian. It's a real problem,” says Scott Johnson, chair of the recently established council that runs the Colorado Veterinary Education Loan Repayment Program, in the release. “This program is a real win for new veterinary graduates who want to practice in rural Colorado, and it's a real win for production agriculture.”


The program aims to tackle the lack of large-animal veterinarians in rural areas by eliminating financial concerns. The CSU release states that over a four-year period, the program will provide $70,000 for each awardee. The program is accepting its first round of applications through Oct. 31 and the first two recipients will be named in December.


Kayla Henderson, DVM, a 32-year-old veterinarian in southern Colorado's San Luis Valley, views the loan-repayment program from the perspective of a young practitioner.


“It's huge,” she says of the program's importance.


Dr. Henderson is vice chair of the program council. She's also a 2012 CSU veterinary graduate and a third-generation cattle rancher who returned to her hometown, Monte Vista, Colorado, to provide medical care for cattle, horses and other animals, according to the release. Without support from the USDA's federal loan repayment program-the model for the new state program-she wouldn't have been able to fulfill her childhood dream, she says.


Officials anticipate that many awardees will be young veterinarians, like Dr. Henderson, who grew up in rural Colorado and want to return home.


According to the release, the program council will select two awardees in its first cycle; that number may rise if the state allocates additional funds to the program, officials say.


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