• As more people live and raise families in cities and suburbs, fewer people have exposure to the rural lifestyle that
often draws people back to their roots. What they don’t
know typically is less appealing.
• Food-animal veterinarians in their golden years, without
an obvious successor, are apt to shutter their practices
instead of handing them down. The physicality of the work
limits their longevity in an exclusively food-animal practice, so some switch to small animals.
So, what does a foundation do to support a crucial corner
of its profession in a meaningful, long-term way? The AVMF
decided to award new veterinarians with leadership potential
substantial money toward student loans in exchange for working in food-animal medicine in rural areas for part, if not all,
of their careers. The secondary hope is that these scholarship
recipients will “pay it forward” to future generations of rural
If this brings to mind the Emmy-winning ‘90s TV show
Northern Exposure, in which a big-city doctor was transplanted to a fictional Alaska town he grew to love, the AVMF
isn’t surprised. The program is modeled after those that get
human medical doctors out to the country.
Most veterinarians trace their AVMA memberships back to
their days attending one of the nation’s 28 colleges of veterinary medicine. Founded in 1863, about 80 percent of
the profession belongs to the AVMA. The Foundation was
established 100 years later as a nonprofit supported by the
veterinary community as well as animal lovers at large. The
staffs of both groups are housed in Schaumburg, Ill., with a
government relations division in Washington, D.C.
The AVMA has 130 employees and a $29.5 million budget. The Foundation, with a four-star Charity Navigator rating
this year, has six full-time employees and has a $5.6 million
Veterinarians work overseas with the military, help combat
diseases among wildlife, fight animal cruelty and work everywhere from government agencies to large food corporations.
From surgery to dermatology, equine to bovine, aquatic to
exotic, the profession is vast. Still most popular among veterinary school students: dogs and cats.
“We know the pet population is huge and growing and
we’re seeing a whole lot of doctors choose the companion-
animal track,” Cathey says. “We just have to make sure food-
animal issues don’t get lost.”
Today’s veterinary school graduate leaves campus with an
average $140,000 in debt, a figure that has risen steeply
with tuition in the past decade thanks in part to state bud-
get cuts. AVMA and other interests began advocating at the
federal level for a program that would offer debt relief as an
incentive to getting food-animal veterinarians into under-
served rural areas. A loan repayment program to be adminis-
tered by the USDA was approved, but funding was stalled and
rules for the program left unwritten as the economy began to
tank in 2008.
“I started talking to a friend, saying there’s got to be a
way to help these numbers and these kids getting out of
school with debts they can’t pay. He pointed me to the AVMF,
which made total sense,” says 50-year AVMA member Robert
Hummel, DVM, chairman of Animal Health International, Inc.
He helped a group representing AVMA/AVMF, higher education and the animal-health industry come together with its
own offering: $100,000 payable over four years to veterinary
school students or recent graduates who commit to a pre-