Feb 14, 2024 - News

Arkansas schools to open vet care programs amid shortage

Illustration of corgi wearing a graduation cap and holding a diploma in its mouth.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Two northeast Arkansas colleges are taking steps to help solve the state's shortage of veterinarians.

Why it matters: By the end of decade, Arkansas could go from graduating zero veterinary school students to 240 each year. The state had the fewest veterinarians per capita in the nation as of 2022, Arkansas Money and Politics reported.

What's happening: Lyon College and Arkansas State University are going through the accreditation process to open veterinary schools.

  • Lyon plans to open its vet school in fall 2025 and aims to graduate 120 students each year, founding dean Eleanor Green told Axios.
  • ASU is aiming for fall 2026 and also plans to graduate 120 students a year, spokesperson Todd Clark told Axios.

State of play: With the exception of caring for exotic animals, Arkansas has plenty of veterinary opportunities treating animals small and large — and the state usually sees about 20 new vets per year, Arkansas Veterinary Medical Association board member Everett Rogers told Axios.

  • But it can be tough getting new, young veterinarians to practice in rural areas, he said.
  • Rural veterinarians used to be able to rely on business from independent family farms. Now, corporate farms have their own vets on staff.
  • Decades ago, the field was mostly men. Now, about 80-90% of new veterinarians are women — young, professional women who often have young professional partners also seeking jobs where they live, making populous areas more attractive.

Yes, but: Even with the new vet schools, there's no guarantee that graduates will set up practice in rural Arkansas, Rogers said.

Of note: Louisiana State University allows up to nine Arkansas students to pay in-state tuition at its vet school.

By the numbers: Arkansas has 1,150 active, licensed veterinarians, but only 831 have in-state addresses, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

  • Veterinarians can be licensed to practice in Arkansas without living in the state, spokesperson Amy Lyman told Axios.

Zoom in: About 24% of the veterinarians listed in the state are in Benton and Washington counties, where roughly 18% of the state's population lived as of 2021, according to the census. Fayetteville had the most with 62.

The big picture: Eleven new veterinary schools are trying to join the 33 existing ones nationwide, Rogers said.

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