HR 525, The Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act
For more than one hundred years veterinarians have helped advance American public health by preventing infectious diseases, keeping our food supply safe, and providing medical care for animals. Veterinarians have played important roles in identifying and controlling Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, H5N1, Mad Cow Disease, and West Nile Virus.
Today there are critical shortages of veterinarians working in public health practice disciplines such as bioterrorism and emergency preparedness, environmental health, food safety and security, food production systems, regulatory medicine, diagnostic laboratory medicine and biomedical research and in our local, state, and federal workforces. An alarming report in 2009 from the Government Accountability Office warned that “there is a growing shortage of veterinarians nationwide, particularly of veterinarians who care for animals raised for food, serve in rural communities, and have training in public health.”
Veterinarians interested in pursuing a career in public health face additional financial burdens due to additional education requirements. 89% of today’s veterinary students have debt upon graduation of which 90.4% was incurred while in vet school. According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the mean educational debt for today’s veterinary medical graduate is approximately $133,000, with approximately 37% of students graduating in 2010 reporting debt exceeding $150,000.
H.R. 525 will increase the number of veterinarians working in public health in two ways. It establishes that ‘‘veterinary public health’’ professionals are intended to be included among the health professionals for purposes of two PHSA authorities: PHSA section 765, which provides for grants for expanding America’s public health workforce, and PHS section 766, which establishes a loan repayment program for public health professionals.
The House of Representatives passed HR 525, the Veterinary Public Health Amendments Acts on March 8, 2011 by a vote of 280-138. The bill now moves to the Senate for Consideration.