WILLIAMSBURG, Iowa — Cody Sacquitne says he knew in his early teens that he wanted a career in veterinary medicine.
“I think in late middle school I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian,” he says. “One of my best friend’s dad was a veterinarian, and that was something I just wanted to do.”
The Decorah native grew up working on his grandparents’ small dairy farm. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in dairy science at Iowa State University, Sacquitne graduated from ISU College of Veterinary Medicine in 2019. A few weeks later, he began his career at the Veterinary Medicine Center in this eastern Iowa community.
“I’m the fourth cattle veterinarian here at the clinic,” Sacquitne says. “I do the majority of the work at the one large dairy we have, and also work with cow-calf operations and with smaller ruminants. My goal was to be a food animal veterinarian, and it’s exciting to be able to do that.”
While Sacquitne was at ISU, there was frequent discussion about the shortage in food animal veterinarians around the country. He says there are many opportunities for vet school graduates who choose to work with cattle, hogs and other food animals.
“We heard about it all the time, so I knew I would be able to find a clinic and most likely specialize in food animal medicine,” Sacquitne says.
Brent Sexton heard much of the same during his time at ISU. He graduated from the vet school in 2018.
The Rockwell City native started his career with Pipestone Veterinary Services in Independence, then went to work for The Maaschoffs hog business in November 2019.
“While working with livestock in 4-H and FFA, I had the opportunity to work with some phenomenal veterinarians like Paul Armbrecht, Vince Collison, Tim Collison, and Garth Robinson,” Sexton says. “I was able to see first-hand the impact a veterinarian can have and how important they are to livestock production.
“I am well aware of the shortage of food animal veterinarians. When graduating from veterinary school, there was a large demand for veterinarians interested in large animal medicine — especially in rural areas. Between fellow veterinarians, and my friends and acquaintances in the livestock industry, I often hear of the need for food animal veterinarians.”
It can be a challenge finding veterinarians who want to practice in a rural area, says Corinne Bromfield, swine Extension veterinarian for the University of Missouri. She says food animals often have a value determined by the market.
“There’s a limit for what somebody’s going to be able to pay because they know the value of that animal,” Bromfield says. “Our ability to do the work for a price that is functional for us as a business, and also works for the owner of the animal, it’s really important that those match up well.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, graduates of vet schools in 2018 incurred an average of $143,000 in student debt, an increase of $10,000 from the previous year. The association decries the shortage of graduates going into rural practice.
“There are several recognized food-animal veterinarian shortages in the Midwest and across the country, threatening animal health, public health and the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers,” says AVMA’s Michael San Filippo. “... Veterinarians are the best line of defense against animal diseases that can endanger humans, destroy livestock herds and hurt rural economies.”
He says the debt load graduates take on affects placement.
“High debt loads can make it cost-prohibitive for young veterinarians to practice in rural areas, as rural salaries are often lower than those in urban areas,” San Filippo says.
But Sacquitne says there are financial incentives for veterinarians who want to work in rural areas. One of those is USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, a program that pays veterinarians $25,000 a year over three years when they are selected to work in a specific rural area. The current application period ends April 2. More information may be found at bit.ly/2VaBsIS.
Sacquitne says he has put in a lot of hours since he began working at the clinic eight months ago.
“It’s pretty much been what I thought it would be, and I am really enjoying it,” he says. “I worked for three years as a veterinary technician, so I knew what it would be like in a rural practice. It is usually pretty busy, but that’s a good thing.”
Additional reporting by Benjamin Herrold and Nat Williams.