Federal Bill Introduced to Expand Veterinary Workforce

In response to an increased threat with the use of biological agents for terrorism purposes, The Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act of 2005 (S. 914 and HR 2206) has been introduced to the House and Senate. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO), a retired private practice veterinarian for 20 years and graduate of Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, introduced S. 914 on April 27 to the Senate. The bill was read and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Sponsors of the Senate bill are Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR).

Chip Pickering (R-Mississippi) introduced the companion bill to the House on May 9. HR 2206 was read and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce for further deliberation.

The purpose of both bills is stated as: "To amend the Public Health Service Act to establish a competitive grant program to build capacity in veterinary medical education and expand the workforce of veterinarians engaged in public health practice and biomedical research."

Public health areas in the bill include bioterrorism and emergency preparedness, environmental health, food and safety security, regulatory medicine, diagnostic laboratory medicine, and biochemical research.

According to American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) statistics, out of 64,867 veterinarians in the United States, only 2% (1,500) are involved in public health and preventive medicine.

"Veterinarians are in a position to detect and respond early to emerging infectious diseases and potential bioterror threats," said Allard to the Senate floor as the bill was being read. "By increasing the number of graduates and improving our research capabilities in veterinary medicine, we can make sure that our country is ready to face the public health challenges of the future."

The AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges are urging Congress "to protect the health of animals, that of the American public, and the safety of the U.S. food supply by passing and funding this legislation."

Bonnie Beaver, DVM, MS, President of the AVMA, says, "Highly contagious avian influenza, foot and mouth disease, and mad cow disease are naturally occurring threats that have the potential to severely impact animal health and welfare, food safety, and public health, and devastate the United States economy. As first responders, veterinarians are critical to preventing, diagnosing, and controlling biological agents that can be transmitted between animals and human beings."

Beaver also recalls how West Nile virus was first recognized by a veterinarian. "In 1999, Dr. Tracey McNamara, a veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo, connected the deaths of crows at the zoo with the deaths of several people in New York. Her discovery of the West Nile virus in the United States potentially saved hundreds of lives."

The bill is slated to provide $1.5 billion during the next 10 years to expand the size of veterinary schools and increase the number of veterinarians trained in public health and research.

"The present shortage of veterinarians in public practice areas endangers the public health system in the United States," commented Beaver. "We don't want to look back at this opportunity and say, 'We should have taken action.' "

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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