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WKYT investigation | Rural veterinarian shortages at “critical” level, experts say


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WEST LIBERTY, Ky. (WKYT) – Whether he’s in the building or in the barn at the back, Dr. David Fugate never knows what a day has in store for him. He just knows it’s gonna be busy.

Almost non-stop, he goes through exams, follow-ups, surgeries – castrating a horse, performing an ultrasound on a dog recovering from pancreatitis, treating a skin infection on another animal, stitching up the hip of a dog that has been hit by a car.

At the West Liberty Veterinary Clinic, their hands are full. The same goes for their phone lines, waiting room and parking lot.

One after the other, the walk-ins follow one another.

And it’s been like this pretty much everyday for over a year now at mixed animal practice in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.

Their five doctors saw thousands of new animal patients last year, according to the clinic’s office director, in part due to an increase in the number of pet owners and the loss of two vets in the area. .

“It’s critical. It’s critical at this point, ”said Dr Fugate. “It is essential that we find and keep some of our talent that we produce off the hills – as well as attract outside talent.”

Several people in the industry who spoke with WKYT Garrett wymer say last year again highlighted a shortage of vets as fewer doctors try to meet increased demand.

State leaders say they are aware of a growing shortage of veterinarians like Dr Fugate, who, in rural areas especially, care not only for pets, but also for the animals that make up our food supply.

“We grow our food here in Kentucky, and we need to be able to support that with our veterinary care for these animals,” said Dr. Katie Flynn, state veterinarian at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

And the shortage situation could worsen.

Industry groups predict that 20% of large animal vets across the country will retire within the next decade, and fewer students will enter large animal practice, especially in rural areas, the said. Dr. Flynn – a recipe for worry in places like eastern Kentucky.

“It’s a national problem,” said Dr. Flynn, “it’s not just a Kentucky problem.”

Burnout – in a profession with disproportionately high suicide rates – is also a major problem.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has named six shortage areas to the United States Department of Agriculture, as part of an incentive program to bring veterinarians to areas where they are needed in return for ‘assistance in the repayment of student loans which are often important for veterinary schools.

Four of the shortage areas designated for the current fiscal year relate to food animal medicine in rural areas:

  • A geographic area with a radius of 50 miles which includes all or part of the following counties: Adair, Anderson, Barron, Bullitt, Casey, Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Garrard, Grayson, Green, Hardin, Hart, Larue, Lincoln, Marion , Mercer, Metcalf, Monroe, Nelson, Pulaski, Russell, Spencer, Taylor, Washington, Wayne
  • Geographic area with a radius of 80 miles including all or part of the following counties: Breckinridge, Butler, Caldwell, Christian, Crittenden, Daviess, Eastern Todd, Edmonson, Grayson, Hancock, Henderson, Hopkins, Logan, McLean, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Simpson, Trigg, Union, Warren, Webster
  • A geographic area with a radius of 50 miles which includes all or part of the following counties:, Anderson, Bath, Boone, Bourbon, Boyle, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Fleming, Franklin, Gallatin, Garrard, Grant , Harrison, Henry, Jefferson, Jessamine, Kenton, Lincoln, Madison, Mason, Menifee, Mercer, Montgomery, Nelson, Nicholas, Oldham, Owen, Pendleton, Powell, Robertson, Scott, Shelby, Spencer, Trimble, Washington, Woodford
  • A geographical area with a radius of 80 km which includes all or part of the following counties: Bath, Bourbon, Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Clark, Clay, Elliott, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Greenup, Jackson, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence , Lee, Leslie, Lewis, Madison, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Rowan, Wolfe

Unfortunately, the federal program has only addressed six of the 22 shortages identified by the state since 2017.

Through the Veterinary Services Grant program, the state is also working with the Auburn Veterinary School and the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association on a project that helps recruit and support veterinarians in rural areas, said Dr Flynn. . Part of this is a preceptorship program that pairs veterinary students with mentors in underserved areas. It also examines financial / business models that could be successful in rural areas.

“The vets are there to treat the animal, they want the best for the animal,” said Dr. Flynn. “And it’s a struggle when there are challenges of” you just can’t meet the need. “”

It is particularly prevalent, experts say, as it can be difficult to recruit veterinarians in rural areas. In addition to the challenges of the job itself, firms often can’t pay as much – because they often can’t charge as much – as firms in more urban areas, making small animal jobs more expensive. attractive to many graduates of veterinary schools.

The five staff physicians at the West Liberty Vet Clinic are from eastern Kentucky.

“We could pack our bags and go and go somewhere else where they would earn more money. But animals don’t choose where they go, where they live. And I love it here, ”said Dr Fugate. “It’s a great place to live, but there is a stigma that has settled on us. It’s not just stigma – we have real employment problems and real problems. I don’t want veterinary care in it.

Dr Fugate said veterinarians as a whole need to be prepared to pay more, mentor more and think outside the box. To this end, he plans to set up a daycare in a building on the property next to the clinic to make his positions more attractive.

In the meantime, he and his colleagues keep moving forward – and there’s a lot of work to be done.

Yet in the midst of hardship – injured and sick animals – there are times of renewal, rebirth and reminders of why they are here, why they are doing what they are doing.

“They feed us. They comfort us. They love us, ”said Dr Fugate of the wide range of animals they care for. “And it’s up to us to make sure everything is safe.”

They know they are making a difference. They just wish they had more hands to help them.

Copyright 2021 WKYT. All rights reserved.


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