BROOKINGS, S.D. - South Dakota is following the national trend when it comes to the shortage of large animal veterinarians. However, the state is also trying to be proactive in addressing the problem and that was a part of the focus of the recent James Bailey Herd Health Conference in Brookings.

"As measured by the number of want ads that our South Dakota Vet Medical Association has for practices looking for veterinarians, you could say there's a shortage just in terms of not being able to fill the openings that are out there every year," says South Dakota State University Extension Veterinarian Dr. Russ Daly say.

Dr. Byron Farquer is a veterinarian and certified evaluation analyst. He spoke to veterinarians from across the state at the conference about how they can improve the management of their business and value the practice to transition ownership. "And that's a big issue, especially in some of the rural communities and the Midwest where we find some our most experienced and beloved veterinarians reaching retirement age and struggling to find people to take over their practices," he says.

Farquer says the deficit of large animal vets started in the 1990s when vet schools began selecting students more on grade-point average verses accepting individuals that were interested in large animal medicine and wanted to establish a practice in their home community. "Instead we preferentially picked 3.9, 4.0 students from big cities," he says.

Farquer said he believes vet schools need to get back to finding people that grew up in rural areas and want to return there. "The challenge is finding any veterinarian that is qualified to take over the practice that wants to move to a community of 3,000 people," he says.

According to Farquer, there has also been an influence from a gender shift. "Thirty years ago, the majority of graduates were men. Men seem to be able to adapt to going out of their comfort zone, maybe to a small town, maybe a different state," he says. However, female veterinarians are more team oriented and like to work with other veterinarians in a practice. He says if they are not from a rural community, they are also less comfortable moving to a small town.

"We don't select a lot of students from rural communities and the veterinarians that are getting into vet school are currently women from dense urban areas that normally work with small companion animals," Farquer says.

Dr. Jim Stangle is a veterinarian from Milesville, S.D. He says attracting veterinarians to his area to work or someday take over his practice is extremely difficult. "I'm in the middle of western South Dakota and have a 90 percent cow-calf practice. Both location and people that want to come to an area like this and work in this profession, there aren't very many of them," he says.

South Dakota is aggressively working to solve the shortage and so is SDSU with the Two-Plus-Two Program, also known as the Rural Veterinary Medical Education Program. It allows participating students to attend the first two years of veterinary school at SDSU and the last two years at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. John Killefer, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU, says they are excited about the opportunity this program will provide students. "The goal is to address a recognized shortage in large animal or food animal veterinarians in rural areas."

He says they want to be able to identify students that can go through vet school that would have that interest and then be able to train them and hopefully get them to go back into practices in these areas. The second big focus is to reduce the cost of veterinary education. "This program will reduce that cost by about $100,000 per student," he says.

Killefer says they are trying to attract students with rural backgrounds that have experience and an interest in large animals. "We are modeling a lot of this after the rural human medicine programs that exist around the country," he says.

The Two-Plus-Two program is being evaluated by the South Dakota Legislature. It was approved by the Senate and is moving through the House.