AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Animal agriculture is a driver of the High Plains economy, but there is a shortage of veterinarians in the region. Between two veterinary schools, they are working to fill that critical gap in service.

The Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine has been around for more than 100 years and now, it has a presence in the Panhandle at the VERO on the campus of WTAMU. The 2+2 DVM program allows vet school students to take two years in Canyon, go to College Station for the third year, and then have the option to return to Canyon for the fourth year.

“We teach all of that curriculum here. It’s the exact same curriculum that gets taught in College Station but because of our access to the large animal aspect, here, we do put a bit of more of a large animal spin on our labs,” said Dr. Jenna Funk, an assistant clinical professor and beef cattle veterinarian at the VERO. “Currently, we offer a feedlot rotation, a dairy cattle rotation, a rural mixed animal practice, rotation, and a working horse rotation. All of those are focused on providing health and wellbeing and services to the agricultural community here. We are the heart of feedlot country.”

According to Funk, there are 180 vet students in each class at Texas A&M. She said of that 180, anywhere from seven to 12 students take the production animal track, focusing solely on animal agriculture.

“So it’s a relatively small number, but then there’s a pretty significant number of students that are tracking mixed animal, meaning that they would like to participate in it, but they want to do it all,” she said. “And so realistically speaking, probably not as many as we need. And so it requires kind of more seats and more schools having a concerted effort to create that program that specifies those kind of needs.”

Funk said rural communities all across the U.S. are struggling for veterinarians. She said they hope many students will choose to stay in the Panhandle region after graduation.

“We do struggle here with getting and maintaining veterinarians in our rural practices. We have a bit more of an animal agricultural need, just because for the size of the operations that are here, and as a result, we kind of end up with more kind of consulting vets rather than, you know, rural mixed animal practitioners,” said Funk.

In the fall of 2021, the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine welcomed its inaugural class.

Dr. Clinton Roof, an assistant professor of veterinary practice at the TTU School of Veterinary Medicine, said with an 800-mile long border, Texas needs both institutions to meet the need.

“A&M has done a fantastic job over the years of creating veterinarians to come out and to service that area, but here aren’t enough of them to meet the demand,” said Roof. “So us having this program here, and specifically in this area, which is full of large animals and other small towns that need veterinary care, having an extra outlet for people who are from Texas, and want to spend their careers in Texas is hugely beneficial for the state as well as a region.”

Roof said right now, the TTU vet school has two classes, including 63 students in the 2025 class, 83 in the class of 2026, and he said there will be 100 in the 2027 class.

“What is very unique about our program is we are looking to create well-rounded general practitioners as people, who are ready when they leave here on graduation, to walk into a clinic and have the skills and confidence to start practicing in rural and regional areas,” said Roof.

Dr. James Brown, an associate professor of equine surgery at TTU, said to help meet the need, they are selecting people interested in large animal practice who are from rural areas.

“I think if you look at the statistics of the number of graduating veterinarians that are entering the large animal, and particularly like equine practice, out of a class, less than 10%, will end up practicing,” said Brown. “So it’s important that we try to encourage the new generation of veterinarians to become involved in large animal practice.”

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently released a veterinary services shortage situations map, which shows several Texas Panhandle counties and their specific shortages.

Brown added, “This facility, and this, this hospital and mission is exactly what this region needs and so it’s sort of hand in glove that we are training this next generation of veterinarians that are going to service the West Texas Panhandle and surrounding areas.”

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