TRENTON, N.J. – Garden State farmers with horses, cattle and other large animals would have better access to veterinary medicine services under a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Dancer and passed by the Assembly Agriculture Committee Wednesday.
The bill (A5117) addresses the state’s shortage of large animal veterinarians by creating a school loan repayment program to incentivize graduates to return and practice in New Jersey for at least five years in a designated underserved area.
“With more horses per square mile than any other state and approximately 30,000 cows, there is a great demand for large animal veterinarians in New Jersey. Unfortunately, we lack our own veterinary medical school, so students must go out of state to obtain a degree and often don’t return,” Dancer (R-Ocean) explained.
Up until 2007, New Jersey would buy seats at out-of-state veterinary schools for New Jersey students; however, there was no guarantee graduates would come back to live and work in the state. The program also provided funding that permitted those students to attend the veterinary schools at in-state tuition rates.
“Even if New Jersey were to have a veterinary school in the future, this bill would be needed to encourage graduates to work with large animals. Most veterinarians returning to our state choose more lucrative small animal practices, even if they have an interest in large animals. This program will make it more financially viable for those interested in treating large animals to choose that area of practice,” Dancer added.
In return for a five-year commitment, veterinarians practicing full-time at a state-approved site could be reimbursed for up to 100% of their school loan expenses.
“The program established by this bill will incentivize graduates to return to New Jersey to perform services in a veterinary practice that is dedicated to large animal health and productivity, in exchange for a repayment of their veterinary school loans over a relatively short period of time,” Dancer said.
The bill appropriates $500,000 from the general fund to the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to administer the loan redemption program beginning in fiscal year 2022.
“Large animal veterinarians are critical to the health of not only livestock, but also humans. In addition to performing surgeries and herd checks, they monitor for disease and educate clients on food safety, including appropriate antibiotic use,” Dancer said. “The benefits of this bill have the potential to reach nearly every resident.”