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Dr. Ryan Shuey, a young Iowa VMA director, works in rural Iowa. (Courtesy Dr. Shuey)
The Iowa legislature passed a bill creating the Iowa rural veterinarian repayment program, and Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill in June.
The call for legislation was spearheaded by the Iowa VMA, the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and several industry partners such as the Iowa Cattleman’s Association and the Iowa Farm Bureau. Iowa joins about 20 states offering similar veterinary loan repayment programs in the countryside and in groceries.
The $ 300,000 fund grants each of five veterinarians who sign up to work in a rural area or area with a veterinary shortage in the state debt relief of $ 15,000 per year for at least four years or $ 60,000.
Dr. Randy Wheeler, executive director of the Iowa VMA, said when Dr. Dan Grooms, Dean of ISU Veterinary College, was first appointed, they discussed starting a program. That was almost two years ago.
“We could see that there was a need,” said Dr. Wheeler, who has a background in rural veterinary medicine. “We started talking … started working with lobbyists and investigating.”
A similar federal program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Loan Repayment Program, pays up to $ 25,000 per year for educational loans from eligible veterinarians who agree to work in veterinary deprived areas for three years.
Veterinarians who graduated and borrowed in 2019 left school with an average debt of $ 183,302, excluding student debt. According to AVMA, the average starting salary for veterinarians is $ 76,633.
Ralph Johnson, CEO of Veterinary Medical Association Executives, said it can be difficult to get funding for loan repayment programs, especially now due to COVID-19. He said it’s great that Iowa got this bill passed.
The VMAE has released the Ready. To adjust. Walk! Combat Educational Debt Initiative to help VMAs provide resources related to educational debt strategies, including funding options for repayment programs (see JAVMA, March 1, 2020).
“Budget things are different for states right now,” said Johnson. “It is probably not the best environment to start a loan repayment program. But even if you can’t get the funding, make the limit. “
Dr. Wheeler suggested VMAs interested in creating a similar program.
“It’s about student debt,” said Dr. Wheeler. “When students drop out of school, the general opinion is that a small-town rural veterinarian will not get the salary a subway small-animal veterinarian would get in a large, multi-person practice.”
The new Iowa program also approved the establishment of the Rural Veterinary Care Trust Fund, administered by the Iowa College Student Aid Commission, which can accept gifts, grants, and other private donations to help fund additional awards.
The new program prohibits applicants who are already participating in the federal repayment program.