One Year Later: The Veterinary Loan Payment Program

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Remember the TV show Northern Exposure? Okay, maybe not; particularly if you’re in veterinary school or just recently graduated. The show was about a doctor who took a job in a remote (and quirky) town in Alaska as a way to pay off his student loans.

Now veterinarians will have the opportunity to move to back-of-beyond for three years in exchange for forgiveness of up to $25,000 per year in student loan debt. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) requires service of a minimum of three years in designated shortage areas across the United States. It is open to newly qualified veterinarians as well as experienced practitioners who still carry more than $15,000 of student loan debt.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which is running the program, also released maps of state- and federally designated shortage areas on its website, www.usda.gov, along with eligibility requirements, FAQs and application forms. In November, the USDA announced that the first such grants—totaling $5,998,080 in loan and tax payments to the first recipients—will be made to participants. (The loan reimbursements are taxable and the tax payments are meant to cover that expense.)

AVMA leaders, who have spent the better part of the last decade championing this program and its funding, are thrilled that federal debt relief has been made available for veterinarians working, or willing to work, in underserved areas. The agency will make another round of awards in 2011. The program is accepting nominations from states to identify current shortage areas, which are scheduled to be posted on the agency’s website by March 1. Applications for the program are due May 31; offers will go out by Sept. 1. Details are posted online.

VMLRP Stats

  • 61% of applications came from veterinarians who obtained their DVM degree within the three years
  • 42 states had at least one shortage area with an application

Fiscal Year 2010 Awards

  • 62 awards (23.8% success rate)
  • Total award amount (loan & tax): $5,988,080
  • Average award amount (loan & tax): $96,582
  • Range of eligible debt: $44,174 to $230,654
  • Median eligible debt: $93,676
  • 65% of awards went to veterinarians who obtained their DVM degree within the last three years
  • 34 states will have at least one shortage area filled with a VMLRP award
  • 24 awards were for Type 1 shortages (At least 80% Private Practice Food Supply Veterinary Medicine)
  • 32 awards were for Type 2 shortages (At least 30% Private Practice Food Supply Veterinary Medicine in a rural area)
  • Six awards were for Type 3 shortages (At least 49% Public Practice Shortage)