While there is a demand for large practitioners, Texas A&M University, the only school for large animal veterinary medicine in the state, has not seen a recent change in enrollment or trends of applicants to the veterinary program.
"There are shortages in all disciplines in the veterinary profession, that includes food animal, large animal, regulatory medicine, diagnostic medicine, imaging, numerous small animal disciplines and pathology, " said TAMU Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Dan Posey D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P., who is the director of special and professional programs for the Office of the Dean. "We basically need more veterinarians because of the numerous ways a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree can be used in our society."
Dr. Hardy Stewardson D.V.M., who graduated from TAMU in 1979, owns a rural private practice in Red River County. According to Stewardson, most graduates are choosing to practice on small animals in urban areas.
"Most of the veterinarians graduating now go to open practices, which are predominately either small animal or equine only," Stewardson said. "They are going into more mixed practices, really.
"They can charge higher prices in the city on small animals, and it's easier work, and they have emergency clinics to handle after-hours calls," Stewardson said. "There are not many people graduating now that will go to a rural town, where they have to work on everything -- cattle, pigs, whatever, horses, cats, dogs. Most of your veterinarians in rural areas don't charge as much for the same services as they do in cities."
Lamar County veterinarian, Dr. Wally Kraft D.V.M., graduated from Kansas State University in 1968, and spent two years in the Armed Forced before starting a practice in Cleburne in 1970. He later ventured to Paris, in 1973. He believes the dynamics of large animal practices and the dynamics of the vet school classes have both contributed to the shortage of large animal vets.
"The dynamics of large animal practice has changed," he said. "There are not near as many large cow herds. Our dairy business is gone in Northeast Texas.
"I mean, you look at the dynamics of my practice... I have quit making calls, I'm practicing by myself. If you need a large animal treated, you have to bring it to my clinic. I mean, that's the only way I can justify practicing large-animal medicine. The other clinic here in town has quit practicing large animal medicine."
Stewardson believes that the financial commitment may keep some vets from starting a large animal practice.
"You can build a small animal clinic a whole lot cheaper than you can build a clinic that can handle large animals too," he explained. "After all, you need squeeze shoots, pens, a lot more space."
According to Kraft, it takes a lot of help and a lot of equipment to be able to handle large animals, and to some, it may not be worth the cost.
"Now, there's not a lot of work to be done," Kraft said. "I mean it's tough to finance. I don't know that you could survive in Lamar County if you did full-time large animal practice. I know there is a shortage of vets, but you know most problems we see are strictly emergencies or cholic -- that type thing. There's not a lot of vaccinations and stuff to be done in Lamar County."
In addition, Kraft and Stewardson concur that the dynamics of the veterinary students are contributing to the shortage of large animal practitioners.
"Better than 75 percent of the class is women, and most of them don't choose to go into large animal practice," Kraft said. "When I graduated, 85 percent of the class was men and there wasn't a problem getting them to go into large animal practices. It's a tough business, it really is, I think physically, it is the biggest limiting factor."
"There are a whole lot more women applying to vet school than there are men," Stewardson agreed. "I think most vet schools in the country are running about 70 percent female, 30 percent male. I'm not trying to be prejudice, but most of the women don't want to work on cows."
Posey graduated from A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1982, and operated a mixed rural private practice for 20 years in Madison County.
Since his time at the university, Posey has not seen any drastic change in applicant or enrollment numbers for the program.
"There are slight differences between classes, but the consistency of the class is associated with the pool that applies to veterinary school," Posey said. "Seventy-five percent of the applicants are female that apply to our program -- then you would expect the same percentage within that class.
"The demographics of most veterinary schools follow this principle and are about the same."
Texas A&M University is among only 28 universities in the nation that offer a large animal veterinary medicine program.
It takes four years to complete veterinary school. Only after completing professional training, graduating with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and passing both national and state licensing examinations, can a student practice.