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Veterinary and a livestock producer examining goats. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

NIFA Helps Veterinary Medical Students Repay Loans

Nifa Authors
Lori Tyler Gula, Senior Public Affairs Specialist

In 2022, 89 food animal veterinary practitioners from 29 American Veterinary Medical Association accredited Colleges of Veterinary Medicine received nearly $9 million in loan repayment benefits from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) via the USDA Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP).  

VMLRP provides up to $75,000 in loan repayment over a three-year period to help eligible veterinarians offset a significant portion of the debt incurred in pursuit of their veterinary medical degrees in return for their service in certain high-priority veterinary shortage situations. Funding is authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Services Act. 

“Educational loan repayment support is essential for food animal veterinarians practicing in many areas where there are shortages of veterinary services,” said NIFA National Program Leader Bob Smith, DVM. “VMLRP award recipients regularly tell us that they wouldn’t be able to serve these areas without this support.”  

There is a critical shortage of food animal veterinarians in both private and public practice, particularly in rural communities, in the United States and insular areas. Food animal producers rely on veterinarians with expertise in food animal medicine and surgery as well as advanced training in herd health, diagnostic medicine, epidemiology, public health and food safety.  

“Food animal veterinarians are critical for the nation’s food supply,” said Smith. “Not only do they ensure the health of agricultural animals through direct animal care, but they’re among the first to detect diseases or outbreaks, provide producers with current animal and public health information, and provide direct and indirect economic support to agricultural communities.” 

One cause for this shortage is the high cost of professional veterinary medical education. Graduates of veterinary colleges have, on average, student loan debt greater than $180,000. The high cost of veterinary education leads many veterinarians to choose other, more lucrative, career paths, such as in small animal practice.  

In 2022, the average veterinary student debt for new VMLRP awardees was $163,576, and for renewal awardees, $108,813. A large majority of new awardees (78%) and half of renewal awardees had more than $100,000 in student loan debt.  

NIFA has made 795 awards since the program’s inception in 2010. Learn more about VMLRP here. Learn more about this program’s impacts in the FY22 VMLRP Annual Report. 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Animal health and production and animal products
Agriculture economics and rural communities

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