Veterinarian shortage making it tough for some small clinics to keep up

Number of rural large animal vets dropping

Darrel Clark is the vet for Seneca Veterinary Clinic.

But, most days you won’t find him there. He travels all over southwest Missouri and Northeast Oklahoma, going from farm to farm doing house calls.

But, it’s getting harder for him to keep up with demand.

“When I moved to Seneca, there were five veterinarians that did mixed animal. Now, there’s probably two or three in Miami, and I don’t know of any mixed animal practitioners that are up and able at this point in time in Neosho,” says Clark. “I don’t think there’s enough time in the day to service everybody that needs to be serviced .”

According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, there’s a shortage of veterinarians that care for large animals all over rural areas in the four-states.

For example, according to the state veterinarian, in Vernon county, the ratio of vets to large animals is 206-thousand to one.

“Since there are fewer veterinarians to take the business on, it stretches the ones that do exist a lot thinner,” explains Clark.

David Prigel, a veterinary technology teacher at Crowder College, says a big part of the challenge has to do with money.

“The average livestock owner, their profit margin gets tighter and tighter, and a veterinarian, their overhead just keeps going up, and the only way they can increase more cash flow is to increase their fees, which is counter-intuitive for the beef farmer because their margin gets tighter and tighter,” says Prigel.

Because of that, a large number of their graduates go to small animal practices.

“They have a large debt, and they see that I can go to work at a small animal clinic and make 20-percent more in Missouri,” says Prigel. “If they want to go to Wisconsin, ya know some huge dairy areas or big beef areas, they can make a very good living as a large animal veterinarian, but it requires… that’s a big change.”

But Tori Collins is one Crowder student that wants go against the norm.

“I’ve always been around horses and cows and a few pigs and sheep,” says Collins. “I’ve always been around them, I know them well, I have a passion for them, and I believe I do my best work in large animal care.”

She says working at a vet clinic in Monett has given her some idea what it’s like being a vet in a rural area, so she isn’t too nervous about going into the field after graduation.

“Most clinics are mixed animal, so you’ll always have your small animal to back you up,” says Collins.

While the field could use more people like Collins, both Clark and Prigel think another option could make things a little easier.

“You know, in the human field, they have PAs [physicians assitants]. I think that’s something they should be looking at is how do we train people to a level where they could be considered a veterinary PA,” says Clark. “It might help distribute some of the stress, some of the load of what we’re going through and still get all the work done for all the people that need it done.”

According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, it costs more than 200-thousand dollars to get a DVM at the University of Missouri.

There is a grant through the Missouri Department of Ag. that gives veterinarian students who practice in underserved areas after graduation 20-thousand dollars.

That grant is offered to six people each year.

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