Utah Needs to Support a Veterinary School at USU
Think about the amount of interaction people have with animals today. It is common for people to live with at least one animal, if you don’t live with them, you certainly come in contact with them frequently as you go about your daily life. From pets and service animals to wildlife and the livestock, we depend on for food and fiber, most of us need the services of a veterinarian at some point. Unfortunately, Utah is the 42nd lowest state in the nation in veterinarians per capita, 15 percent lower than the national average.
It is estimated that 61% of all human disease originates in animals before affecting humans. Along with the potential health impacts, there are economic considerations to consider. Our meat, dairy and egg supply are dependent on veterinarians to help provide for the health and safety of the animal and to inspect and certify that those products are safe before they enter the food supply. Currently, there are meat processing plants in Utah that are operating at reduced capacity or are not able to open at all due to a shortage of meat inspectors, those inspectors in most cases must be veterinarians. Without enough veterinarians to treat and prevent animal disease – and to keep our food processing plants open – we are setting ourselves up for serious problems.
So, how do we address the shortage of veterinarians in Utah? We must start training Utah students here in Utah. For the past 10 years USU has had an agreement with the Washington State University where 20 students per year complete the first two years of veterinary school at USU and then spend the final two years at Washington State completing their degree. This program has worked well and given 20 Utah student priority to get their veterinary degree.
While the current program was a step in the right direction, we have still limited in the number of students we can send out of state, and then there is the challenge of simply hoping those students would return to Utah once they completed their degree. With the new four-year program, we will be fully training 80 students per years right here in Utah. At least 40 of those students will be local Utah students who will work closely with local Utah veterinary clinics throughout their schooling. This will lead to increase retention of vets in local clinics, and will help veterinarians develop working relationships, ties and incentive to stay in Utah.
Along with addressing our shortage of veterinarians the new school will be an economic blessing to the state. A study of veterinary schools around the country shows that for every $20 million spent on a veterinary school, $48 million is returned in research dollars alone. This does not take into account the businesses that the school will attract to the state such as pharmaceutical companies, veterinary supply companies and private researchers. Look at the impact that the University of Utah’s medical school has on our state. As a result, we have state-of-the-art, world-renowned medical treatment and research facilities right here in Utah.
Utah agriculture is dependent on well-trained, local veterinarians to help care for our animals. Too often our rural communities simply don’t have timely access to a veterinarian. When our animals are sick or injured our farmers and ranchers need access to reliable, timely assistance from a competent veterinarian. Access to care will be greatly improved with more vets locally.
As of this writing, legislation is working its way through the legislature to bring such a school to Utah, and Utah Farm Bureau is pushing for its passage. Now is the time for Utah to invest in our future.
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