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Tackling the U.S. Food Animal Veterinarian Shortage: NIFA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program

Nifa Author
Danielle Farley, Social Science Specialist

Food animal veterinarians are critical to maintaining a healthy, secure, and safe food supply. Today, there is a critical shortage of food animal veterinarians in both private and public practice, particularly in rural communities in the U.S. and insular areas.

Food animal producers rely on veterinarians with expertise in animal medicine and surgery as well as advanced training in herd health, diagnostic medicine, epidemiology, public health, and food safety.
One cause for this shortage is the high cost of professional veterinary medical education. Graduates of veterinary colleges typically have, on average, student loan debt greater than $150,000. The high cost of veterinary education leads many new graduates to choose lucrative career paths such as small animal medicine. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) provides approximately $7.6 million per year in funding to help eligible veterinarians offset a significant portion of debt incurred in pursuit of their veterinary medical degrees in return for their service in certain high-priority veterinary shortage situations. The VMLRP will pay up to $25,000 each year towards qualified educational loans of eligible veterinarians who agree to serve in a NIFA-designated veterinarian shortage situation for a period of three years. In fiscal year 2020, NIFA received 150 applications and distributed 76 awards.

On April 29, 2021, NIFA published the VMLRP FY 2020 Annual Report that provides a detailed review of the program, applicant and awardee statistics, shortage areas awarded, and a statement about the impact of COVID-19. Learn more about VMLRP. The next request for applications period will open in February 2022 and close on April 15, 2022. You can also send any questions about this program to


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