FRANKFORT, Ky. — In Kentucky and across the country there is a shortage of veterinarians, particularly in rural areas of the commonwealth. Now lawmakers in Frankfort are pushing to establish a veterinary school at Murray State University.
House Bill 400 would allow the university to offer the state’s first doctorate of veterinary medicine degree in Kentucky.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 86 of Kentucky’s counties are facing some sort of veterinarian shortage. Brian Parr, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture at Murray State University said offering a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine would help ease some of the shortage at a state level.
“A lot of the pieces to make this happen are already in place and the value for the Commonwealth of investing in this at Murray State is very sound,” Parr said
Kentucky is one of 22 states in the nation that doesn’t have an in-state university offering a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
Parr said about 50-70 veterinarians would graduate each year if MSU offered a doctorate degree. Kentucky is facing a shortage of veterinarians predominantly in rural areas and specializing in large animals.
“That’s what the focus of this program will be is in treating that shortage so that we can be able to meet the needs of our animal producers of the state,” Parr said
The university already has livestock, laboratories and an equine education center which would be a part of the proposed veterinary school. President of Murray State University, Bob Jackson said the university has had the infrastructure for years.
“50 years ago in 1973, our board of regents passed a resolution unanimously to build a School of Veterinary Medicine at Murray State University,” Jackson said.
Jackson said MSU’s pre-vet medicine program is the largest in Kentucky with 450 students. Post undergrad, the State of Kentucky contracts with two out-of-state universities to reserve spots in their vet medicine programs. But many prospective vets switch career paths as it’s a highly competitive seat.
“We spend millions of dollars as a Commonwealth for those spots, two at Tuskegee and 38 at Auburn, and we need a lot more veterinarians than that to meet the needs of the Commonwealth today and also across the country,” Jackson said.
MSU’s proposed program would be a clinical/distributed model, meaning students would learn off campus rather than the school having its own veterinary clinic. Some veterinarians argue the clinical model has inconsistencies in the education students receive.
“There are some clinics that they go in and don’t get much hands-on experience. They monitor from across the room. Then there’s some where it’s carte blanche and they’re allowed to do things without much supervision,” said Dr. Tammy Thomason-Smith, a veterinarian in Knox County.
MSU is modeling their proposed program after Lincoln Memorial University, which uses a distributed model. Parr said that program in Tennessee has placed many veterinarians throughout the country.
“Really, education across the board in all of our fields that internships are pieces of education that help the students be able to go in work ready on day one and establish those relationships that result in employment,” Parr said.
Veterinarian positions are expected to grow nationwide by over 19% between 2016 and 2026 according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, according to information in a presentation by Murray State officials.
House Bill 400 passed its first legislative hurdle; it passed the House agriculture committee on Feb. 7. Fourteen members voted yes, two members voted no and all four democrats opted to pass on the bill.
If it would offer a veterinary medicine doctorate degree, Parr and Jackson said Murray State would offer scholarship incentives to rural pre-vet students who want to return to large animal practice.