Many animal lovers have romantic ideas about working as a rural veterinarian.
After all, working with animals in the countryside sounds pretty idyllic.
That was certainly the case for Dr. Rexanne Struve. "Being able to work
and raise our family on and around the family farm in Iowa has been my dream
since childhood,â€ she says. â€œI had a very romanticized idea of what it would
be like to live on a farm. When I was 16, I visited a dairy farm in Southern
Illinois. It was the first time Iâ€™d ever seen a cow, and I was hooked. I knew
I wanted to work with cattle.â€
Struveâ€™s practice is located in a small town and treats all species of
animals. This includes all types of livestock, like cattle, sheep, hogs, horses,
deer, elk and llamas. Small companion animals such as dogs, cats, birds, ferrets,
reptiles, mice, hamsters and rats also make their way into her practice.
â€œWe may not be experts in all, but we can be the front line of determining
a problem and we refer cases to specialists when needed,â€ she explains.
But there is another side to working as a rural vet, one filled with long
nights, dirty work and demanding clients. The current shortage of rural and
large animal veterinarians suggests these more negative aspects of life as
a rural vet may be discouraging some veterinarians from working in rural areas.
There are other reasons for the shortage, including some that might not
be so obvious.
â€œThe majority of large animal veterinarians are people who grew up in the
country,â€ explains Dr. Geneva Pagliai. â€œWith the shrinking population in rural
areas, the population of potential large animal veterinarians is shrinking
as well. In addition, veterinary medicine is becoming dominated by women who
are less likely to want to be in large animal practice, perhaps because it
is more physically demanding than small animal practice.â€
Struve agrees that the demand for rural and large animal vets is growing.
She adds another reason to explain the shortage.
â€œThere is a high demand for rural and large animal vets now because for
the last 20 years, veterinary colleges have not chosen to admit students with
more rural backgrounds who are more likely to go into rural practices,â€ she
â€œAdmission to veterinary school has been too much oriented to grades alone.
Young people who have not grown up on farms and ranches may have more emphasis
placed on getting the highest grades. While that is good to a point, many
times it has come at the expense of the practical experience the rural kids
have. They have education in things other than book knowledge, which tends
to be what grades reflect.â€
Struve explains that people who havenâ€™t grown up around livestock are not
as likely to want to go into rural practice. They may be afraid that they
canâ€™t learn about livestock, or canâ€™t handle them.
It makes sense that the veterinarians who care for large animals would
have experience with them and be located near them. Unfortunately, that also
means that there is a smaller population to draw from. Add that to the long
years of schooling, the expenses attached to that education, and factors such
as unpredictable hours and uncomfortable conditions, and you begin to see
why this career may be overlooked. Still, those who choose this path overcome
the challenges and enjoy the rewards.
â€œRural practice is taxing during the heavy times of the year, spring and
fall, if cattle and sheep are part of the practice mix,â€ confirms Struve.
â€œBut there isnâ€™t a job on earth that doesnâ€™t have its trying times, and the
friendships formed over calving, lambing, and farrowing difficulties are deeply
ingrained and hard to beat.â€
â€œI enjoy being outside and interacting with my clients, both the animals
and their owners/trainers,â€ says Pagliai. â€œOf course, seeing new cases every
day is challenging and the long hours and being on call for your clients can
be difficult.â€ But Struve believes that any veterinary student who loves
the rural lifestyle should consider going into rural practice.
â€œThere are more opportunities now for employment in rural areas than ever
before,â€ she says. â€œSalaries of veterinarians are the highest theyâ€™ve ever
been. Being a part of the community is also a big plus. In rural towns, the
veterinarian is looked up to as a model and a sort of hero. The community
is an extension of family, and veterinarians play a very important part in
the makeup of the town.â€
Pagliai suggests that students consider this career if they enjoy problem
solving, being outside, job security and interacting with both animals and
people. â€œIt can be very rewarding to help see an animal through an illness,
but it is important to realize how much time is spent interacting with the
owners of animals and doing client education.â€
â€œRural communities are the best place on earth to raise families,
and farmers are the salt of the earth,â€ concludes Struve. â€œI wouldnâ€™t change
places with anybody.â€
American Veterinary Medical Association
Contains information for vets as well as resources for the public
About.com: Veterinary Medicine
Contains links to veterinary schools across North America
Academy of Rural Veterinarians
Organization specifically for rural vets