Future veterinarians go to Congress to discuss student loan debt

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader with a group of veterinary students at the 2015 AVMA Legislative Fly-in--Courtesy of Scott Nolen/AVMA

Veterinary students met with congressional leaders earlier this week to address their crushing debt and the lack of veterinary services in many rural communities across the country.

The event was part of the American Veterinary Medical Association's annual "Legislative Fly-in" and included 66 students from 26 veterinary schools, the organization said in a press release.

The main topics of their discussions with lawmakers were student loan debt and the declining number of veterinarians choosing to establish practices in rural areas.

The average graduating debt for veterinarians was $135,283 in 2014, having soared 7.5% each year over the past decade. In their meetings, students urged lawmakers and their staffs to address this financial burden when they reauthorize the Higher Education Act by making the terms and conditions of federal student loans more favorable.

"The rising cost of student debt is on a lot of these students' minds as they plan for their future careers, and opening up more opportunities for veterinarians to serve rural communities in need of public health or food animal medicine is also critical to our nation's agricultural community," Ted Cohn, AVMA's president, said in a statement.

The students also discussed the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (S. 440), which if passed, would provide up to $25,000 annually in loan repayments for veterinarians who choose to practice public health or food animal medicine in designated areas of the country where there is a shortage of veterinarians.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are 22 states that are facing a chronic problem of a lack of veterinarians. In October, the agency awarded more than $4.5 million to 51 veterinarians to defray tuition costs, provided they work in an underserved area for three years.

- check out AVMA's release