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Rural South Dakota faces worsening veterinarian shortage


As populations decline in rural South Dakota, the demand for rural veterinarians to serve livestock has not — a problem that's plagued the industry for decades.

But according to Dr. Beth Thompson, the state veterinarian and executive director of the veterinary licensing board, a significant portion of the remaining rural veterinarian population is preparing for retirement.

"We could have a foreign animal disease walk in here, and not even know for a period of time because we don't have veterinarians out there working with these folks," she said.

Rural veterinarians often get paid less than their urban counterparts. They work longer hours, all while carrying thousands of dollars in debt from medical school, according to Russ Daly, the state public health veterinarian with SDSU Extension.

Daly said the students most likely to become rural veterinarians are from the county they serve — something those communities should invest in.

"Encouraging their own youth to enter the profession and help them see that practicing in rural areas with livestock can be a very, very satisfying life," he said.

The USDA offers a Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program, focused on rural veterinarians. Those accepted get up to $75,000 to repay loans.

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.