A dozen years ago, I was interviewed by the Houston Chronicle when a serious red flag was raised regarding the failure to solve the shortage and demand for veterinarians in our state’s rural communities. Failing to do so, the article correctly noted, posed a lingering threat to food safety and a host of other economic and security challenges in Texas.
I was hopeful in 2007 that because this important issue was being highlighted, Texas A&M would solve the problem. I was wrong.
What I didn’t expect, however, was that 12 years later, the predicament would be worse and I would find myself supporting a new veterinary school from a different university.
I also was shocked, yet excited, to learn the Texas Veterinary Medical Association recently voted to support the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine, in addition to their support of Texas A&M and funding the Rural Veterinary Incentive Fund. Texas Tech currently has a proposal before the Texas Legislature and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
There’s no doubt that this decision was challenging for some, emotional for others and made with the utmost consideration mindful of what’s best for the profession. But as far as I’m concerned, they got it right.
As a lifelong rural veterinarian, I have practiced at the same clinic in Slaton from 1970 until turning my business over to another rural veterinarian in 2017. Throughout my career, I have seen the severe need for more rural veterinarians firsthand, not only as a caregiver to animals in an underserved region but also as a businessman who had trouble finding someone to take over my long-established practice.
It’s often falsely stated that veterinarians cannot make a living in rural areas, but after having owned a successful rural practice for 45 years, I know this is simply not the case. Veterinarians can and do thrive in rural areas. And it’s these veterinarians who are needed the most.
Rural veterinarians are vital to the health and safety of our animals, our people and our economy. The health of our animals, large and small, is put at risk because of the lack of veterinarians to care for them, and when our animals are at risk, so are we. We must end this chronic shortage and bring veterinarians to rural communities if we hope to have continued growth and prosperity for our state.
That’s why several rural veterinarians and I expressed the need for a new, comprehensive solution in the 2007 article and why so many of us now believe in and support Texas Tech’s vision to address this problem.
Based on successful models across the nation and globe, the Texas Tech veterinary school is innovative, cost-efficient and collaborative. It’s purposefully built to produce veterinarians for our regional and agricultural communities by addressing major barriers like student accessibility, educational costs and the recruitment and selection process as well as teaching methods and curriculum, among other areas.
It also enriches the practice of veterinary medicine through partnerships with existing veterinary clinics that will provide real-world learning opportunities for students and offer invaluable resources for practicing veterinarians.
To many, it’s the future of veterinary medical education.
As a proud Texas A&M graduate, I understand that this can be a tough issue for some. But what I don’t understand is how anyone can deny the astounding veterinary demands in Texas and pretend that only one university can meet all these needs.
California, Tennessee and Alabama each have more than one veterinary school. The population in Texas is approaching 30 million people. And it has been over a century since the state’s sole veterinary school first opened, while today, we have multiple law, nursing, medical and pharmacy schools.
There comes a time when reality must be faced.
Yes, Texas A&M has one of the world’s best veterinary schools. There’s no questioning that. But if one university can meet all of Texas’ veterinary needs, why does the state rank last in having the necessary veterinarians to care for our livestock? Why are more Texas students going out of state for veterinary education than staying in Texas? And why is more than 75 percent of the state’s incoming veterinary workforce being supplied by programs outside of Texas and the country?
To be clear, I’m not passing blame. I’m saying there’s room in our great state for two great veterinary schools.
A lot of things can easily be fixed in 12 years. A lot of things should be fixed after spending half a billion dollars. Sadly, the critical shortage of veterinarians in rural communities was not one of them.
I’ve recently been told by my own school that all that’s needed now is more money and time. Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing that for decades.
Something must be done to bring more veterinarians to rural communities, and I believe that something is Texas Tech’s veterinary school.
I thank the Texas Veterinary Medical Association for their support of Texas Tech. I also urge our Texas Legislature and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to support Texas Tech in its endeavor, as it’s vital to the health and safety of Texas, just like it is to this rural veterinarian in Slaton.