Everything Animals: Large animal vets in short supply
Dr. Dave Sequist prepares a vaccine as an alpaca looks on.
Dr. Sequist and Williams wrangle an alpaca for treatment.
A portable ultrasound machine.
Stowe, Vermont - January 18, 2011
Sixteen degree temperatures. Over 200 miles on the road. Twelve hours on the job. All part of a normal day for Dr. Dave Sequist.
Sequist is a large animal veterinarian, a breed that's quickly disappearing in Vermont along with the dairy farms that used to provide an unending supply of cattle in need of veterinary care.
With over 40 years on the job, Sequist and Certified Veterinary Technician Becky Williams have Franklin County and central Vermont fairly well covered through their practice, Sequist Large Animal Veterinary Services, but in other areas there's an extreme shortage.
"The Northeast Kingdom, and then down in the southeast section of Vermont there's a need for large animal vets," Sequist says.
The hard numbers tell the whole story. There are over 300 small animal veterinarians in Vermont but only 30 large animal veterinarians, and some of them only treat horses.
However there is a government program that federal officials hope will change those numbers. It's called the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. It seems like it would be an appealing option for newly-minted vets, who Sequist says graduate with a debt load average of about $140,000. The program offers up to $25,000 a year for four years to vets who agree to work in under served rural areas. There are two spots available in Vermont but so far the program isn't yielding results.
"So far I guess it hasn't been filled because nobody applied," Sequist says. "They don't even want to get into it."
So why aren't veterinary students taking this path?
"It may be an economics issue because small animal (vets) tend to make more money than large animal (vets)," Sequist says, "and the hours are better. And the benefits are better all the way around."
However working in an office means those veterinarians don't get to do things like what Sequist does on this particular day: giving alpacas ultrasounds in a barn. Unfortunately the weather was too cold for the machine to work, so the team will have to come back again.
Sequist says his job takes stamina and the ability to roll with the unexpected. One particular incident that stands out in Sequist's mind is when he was working on an 1,100 lb. horse and it bolted, throwing him through a door and into a manure pile.
"I thought you were dead!" Williams says, remembering the incident. "And he lay there and the horse stepped right on his head and I said, 'Speak to me, speak to me,' and he didn't and the horse was gone and then he kinda woke up and I said, 'Why didn't you say anything?' You know what his answer was? 'I didn't have anything to say.'"
After packing up their gear, Sequist and Williams get in the truck and head for Montpelier to take care of a horse...just part of a day in the life of a large animal veterinarian.
Click HERE for more information about the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. Sequist Large Animal Veterinary Services can be contacted at (802) 888-2466.
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