NIFA Provides Student Loan Assistance for Veterinary Medical Students

Taylor Worsham, Clinician's Brief

ArticleLast Updated May 20233 min read
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) is providing up to $75,000 in loan repayment over a three-year period for eligible [food animal] veterinarians.

The funding, authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Services Act, aims to help veterinarians offset incurred debt while earning their veterinary medical degrees in return for service in “certain high-priority veterinary shortage situations.”

“Educational loan repayment support is essential for food animal veterinarians practicing in many areas where there are shortages of veterinary services,” said National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) National Program Leader Bob Smith, DVM, in a blog post. “VMLRP award recipients regularly tell us that they wouldn’t be able to serve these areas without this support.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association cites the mean debt from earning a veterinary degree was $147,258 for 2022 veterinary college graduates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median pay for a veterinarian is $100,370 per year. While an acceptable debt-to-income ratio should sit at or below 36%, veterinarians can deal with a much larger percentage. 

Alyssa Watson, DVM, and Beth Molleson, DVM, discuss the issue of student debt in regard to veterinary medicine during a Clinician’s Brief Veterinary Breakroom podcast, titled, “Student Loans—Is the Debt Worth the Dream?”

“I have been in practice 19 years,” said Watson during the 2022 podcast. “Watching the cost of tuition … balloon over that time has been difficult, to say the least. It’s really changed the way over the years, (how) I talk to younger people who are interested in becoming veterinarians. I try never to discourage people but it has changed, significantly, where I put that financial aspect in the conversation.”

The USDA cites a critical shortage of food animal veterinarians in both private and public practice. Per NPR, while farmers have endured a shortage of rural veterinarians for decades, the issue is at its paramount as 500 counties across 46 states reported critical shortages in 2022. It is suspected that part of this shortage is attributed to the high cost of pursuing a veterinary education.

In 2022, the average veterinary student debt for new VMLRP awardees was $163,576, and $108,813 for renewal awardees.

“Food animal veterinarians are critical for the nation’s food supply,” Smith said in the blog post. “Not only do they ensure the health of agricultural animals through direct animal care, but they’re among the first to detect diseases or outbreaks, provide producers with current animal and public health information, and provide direct and indirect economic support to agricultural communities.” 

Learn more about the VMLRP at