The Kentucky Legislature is passing two bills aimed at addressing the vet shortage


During this year’s legislative session, which ended Monday, Kentucky lawmakers took some steps to support the agriculture industry amid the critical shortage of veterinary drugs.

In an effort to address the shrinking supply of veterinarians, two House bills and a Senate joint resolution were proposed and gained momentum, with two of the three eventually passing and one dying in committee.

The moves follow the publication of a multi-part Courier Journal project on the veterinarian shortage plaguing the state.

There are more than 2 million livestock, hundreds of thousands of horses and thousands of pets that demand the attention of the state’s 2,571 active, licensed veterinarians. But only 1,160 of these veterinarians were practicing in Kentucky as of May 2022, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Legislature also allocated $60 million to Murray State University’s budget for its veterinary technician program.

“With the appropriation that we received and the recognition that our program received, and the future that we see coming… (we) think this is a good outcome,” said Dr. Brian Parr, dean of Murray State University. Hutson School of Agriculture.

Here’s a look at what’s coming out of the Legislature for the veterinary industry across Kentucky:

This bill addresses the crippling student debt that many vets will incur, along with the dire shortage of vets in some parts of the state.

According to a 2024 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, about 10% of all new veterinary graduates will rack up more than $300,000 in student debt.

“If you get into Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky, you’ve got guys covering five, six counties, especially in food animals…I cover 80 miles out to the edge of Kentucky…so many of us are like that , we’re spread out pretty far,” said Dr. John Laster, veterinarian and founder of Todd County Animal Clinic.

The bill, which became law on April 10 without the governor’s signature, will establish a student loan repayment program for students in rural Kentucky.

The program supports veterinarians who: graduated within the last ten years; have loan debt of more than $75,000; are willing to practice for five years in rural Kentucky, where there are currently no veterinarians.

The program covers a maximum of $87,500 in loan payments.

“The biggest thing this is going to do is put vets where the real shortages are, where there are no vets,” Laster said.

The bill also aims to provide rural students who wish to return to rural communities to practice the opportunity to do so financially and not feel pressure to accept a higher paying veterinary role in an urban area solely to meet their to cover debt burden, Laster said. .

“From what I can tell, everyone is excited about this,” Laster said. “We are working together as a veterinary community and allies… and the entire General Assembly, no matter which side of the aisle they are on, they have all tried to help us. They heard us, they listened, and they have pushed through.”

Under House Bill 400, which had 51 cosponsors, Murray State University would have been legally authorized to build a veterinary school and offer doctoral degrees required for professional practice and licensure in veterinary medicine.

HB 400 quickly passed the House and was sent to the Senate, where it ended up in the education committee and ultimately died.

Parr, dean of Murray State, is confident that a new veterinary school will benefit not only the veterinary industry, but also interested students in Kentucky. Parr previously said that when combining the pre-veterinary and veterinary technology students, there are more than 400 students in these two majors, noting that the campus is seeing growing interest in these fields.

“I didn’t expect it wouldn’t work out,” Parr said Wednesday.

During a House committee meeting on the bill, the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association had representatives share their opposition to the vet school, namely because of the specific educational model the university planned to use.

Parr said on Feb. 7 that this vet school would create veterinarians who are ready and prepared for their first day on the job by being exposed to field practice using a clinical/distributed model curriculum. The vet school would have a class size of up to 70 students and focus on providing services and preparing students to work in rural Kentucky in large animal practices.

This resolution, sponsored by Secretaries of State Julie Raque Adams, Robert Stivers and Damon Thayer, among others, provides an indirect lifeline and a possible revival next session of this year’s failed HB 400.

The resolution directs the Council on Postsecondary Education to conduct a feasibility study on expanding postbaccalaureate programs at certain state universities – such as establishing a doctorate in veterinary medicine at Murray State University.

“This resolution still gives us a lot of hope that this will happen,” Parr said. “I’m still very, very hopeful. I think this is a logical approach. I don’t see it as an outright approach to ending this effort.”

The council will have to report its findings on whether vet school and other advanced degree programs should be offered at Murray State and other state universities by Dec. 1.

“Of course, House Bill 400 was only intended to make (the establishment of a vet school) legal, and so that will be next session. Depending on the outcome of what CPE recommends, perhaps it will become law and also be supported, because that is what I have been asked to do here by Senate leadership,” Parr said.

For now, Parr and his team will wait several months to see what is determined.

“We believe we are in the right place for this, and we should move forward with this to serve the livestock industry in our state,” Parr said.

Why is there a shortage of veterinarians?

Kentucky is facing a veterinarian shortage that is seriously impacting farmers and pet owners and could ultimately harm our food supply. The Commonwealth, known for its horses, also produces the most beef east of the Mississippi River and relies largely on veterinarians to protect the health, safety and integrity of animals intertwined in the state’s $50 billion agricultural industry. dollar worth.

The vet shortage is a problem across the country, but in Kentucky, with its 12 million acres of farmland and reputation as the Horse Capital of the World, it is exacerbated by an aging veterinarian population and a shortage of veterinary students. the gaps in rural communities.

High student loan debt, increasingly long work hours, client pressure for faster and better care, and high burnout rates are major factors contributing to the shrinking supply of veterinarians in Kentucky and across the country.

What are the consequences of the shortage of veterinarians?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified approximately 500 counties in 47 states facing veterinarian shortages. According to the USDA, 86 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are currently experiencing a shortage.

The vet shortage could have numerous consequences in a state like Kentucky. A major problem with the shortage of veterinarians is the consequences for the food supply. Veterinarians are concerned with food safety and ensuring that every animal raised and entered into the food supply is healthy for human consumption.

“Veterinarians are literally involved from the reproductive processes, from the day the animals are born, to feeding, all the way up the food chain, to the safety of the food supply in slaughterhouses… they are involved in every aspect of food safety, Slander, said the Todd County vet.

Contact business reporter Olivia Evans at [email protected] or on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, at @oliviamevans_.