STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Oklahoma State University will be the state’s first ever ‘Veterinary Medicine Authority’ because of a recently passed law.
Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners’ Executive Director, Cathy Kirkpatrick said just as it’s happening nationwide, Oklahoma is experiencing a vet shortage.
“We are [experiencing a shortage] in the large animals mostly. Well, and I would kind of say maybe all around, but more so for large animal medicine. We have seen that over the last few years,” said Kirkpatrick.
The vet shortage is mainly impacting rural areas, according to Kirkpatrick.
“They pay more in the metropolitan area than the rural areas. That’s just standard. I mean, veterinarians in the rural area there, their fees aren’t as large as it is in the metropolitan,” she added.
Kirkpatrick told News 4 there are roughly 2,300 active vet licenses in Oklahoma.
However, she guesstimates only 1,800 actually practice in the Sooner State.
She said a large part as to why this state is seeing a lack in vets is because the starting pay doesn’t correspond with the six figure student debt graduates often incur.
Kirkpatrick said two years ago, the starting pay was only $75,000.
“I know in a particular instance their debt was like over $350,000,” added Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick said the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners does offer a monetary incentive to two OSU graduates every year who sign a two year contract with the board and work in rural areas with large animals.
Each student would receive $12,500 to “kind of offset some of their student loan debt.”
“We would honestly like to increase that. I mean, that’s something that we could look at later on. But of course, you know, if we even approach that, we have to get approval from the legislature who has to grant us approval. We’d have to take a look at our budget, you know, because all state agencies have a tight budget that we have to work with,” explained Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick also referenced several Department of Agriculture grants provided to vets who work in rural areas.
“Hopefully that’s going to help,” she said.
On top of the financial incentives, more training is now being offered through the Oklahoma State University.
House Bill 2863 was originally vetoed by Governor Kevin Stitt, but it was overturned by the House and Senate last Thursday.
The new law has created the Oklahoma State University Veterinary Medicine Authority (OSUVMA), securing long-term support for clinical training at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
“There’s only 33 veterinary programs across the United States. And it’s such an important part to Oklahoma’s economy, both from the ranch level, all the way up to the state economy. It was critically crucial that we tackle this head on and made sure that we had as strong of a [medical] program as we could have in the state,” said OSU Center for Health Sciences President and Senior Vice President of Health Affairs, Dr. Johnny Stephens.
Dr. Stephens told KFOR the university has been working on this initiative for the last year.
“We knew this was going to need focus, but we wanted to take time and make sure that we got this right. We didn’t want to go to the legislature and Governor and say, ‘Here’s what we need,’ but not really have done the work to make sure that this is what we needed to do,” he added.
The OSUVMA will support clinical faculty, student training and the veterinary teaching hospital, similar to how the OSU Medical Authority and the University Hospitals Authority support the state’s medical schools.
The authority will have public health implications as it will aid in sustaining diagnostic services to agricultural producers and the continuation of research to improve human and animal health, furthering OSU’s strategic One Health goals.
One Health is an approach that recognizes human health is closely connected to animal health and our shared environment. Experts estimate that up to 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases will come from animals.
Given the increasing prevalence of zoonotic diseases, the continuation of groundbreaking research into One Health — particularly on diseases of economic importance in Oklahoma — is a key factor in securing better health outcomes for Oklahomans, said a press release from OSU.
Dr. Stephens agreed with Kirkpatrick in that there is a vet shortage in Oklahoma, but he’s hopeful this initiative will tackle it head on.
“It will help with it in the very short term. We will not have any increase in class size, but we’ll have an increased focus of what’s needed. There is a veterinary shortage across the state and in the U.S. but this will really help us focus on large animal veterinarians and producing large and mixed animal veterinarian practices for rural Oklahoma,” stated Dr. Stephens. “That’s where the shortage is really highest and most needed. And this will help us concentrate on that. It’ll also help us learn from our experiences at the College of Medicine in Tulsa, really focusing on making sure that we get Oklahomans into the program that are going to stay in Oklahoma and practice. And this passage will help with that in a big way.”
He says the next step is to establish the OSUVMA as well as bring on an Executive Director.
That step will occur over the next two weeks, according to Dr. Stephens.