KSU rural scholarships aim to attract food animal veterinarians

The US faces a critical shortage of large animal veterinarians. A new scholarship program at Kansas State University could help change that—especially for underrepresented students.

By Tony McReynolds

“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to return to rural America,” Nick Henning, DVM, told NEWStat 

A 2016 graduate of the Kansas State University (KSU) College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), Henning started working for his local companion animal veterinarian while in high school, but it was experience with a large animal vet as an undergraduate that convinced him of his true calling.  

“He not only provided veterinary services to his clients, but he also owns and operates his own cow herd. It was while I was working for him that I cemented my desire to be a large animal veterinarian,” Henning said. 

Today, along with his wife Samantha (also a DVM), he owns Heartland Veterinary Center in Ness, Kansas, (population: 1,329)—the same small town where he grew up—and where he now specializes in bovine medicine. 

Henning is in the minority. 

A critical shortage of food animal veterinarians (and the risks it poses) 

Forty years ago, about 40% of veterinary school graduates focused on food animal medicine. Today, that figure stands at around 3% according to a 2022 study—a pretty significant decline.  

Study author Clinton Neill, PhD, MS, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, told NEWStat that much of the shift can be attributed to the companion animal side of veterinary medicine becoming an integral part of the industry, “which really is a result of urbanization and the movement of much of the country’s population out from rural areas.” 

Student debt is another culprit. 

Saddled with high levels of debt and faced with the prohibitively high cost of equipping a veterinary business, Neill said that veterinary students today choose jobs at established companion animal practices in urban and suburban areas over the lower incomes and more demanding workloads that come with rural veterinary work.  

As a result, Neill said, more than 500 US counties face a shortage of food animal vets, and many states have counties without a single large animal veterinarian. 

That shortage poses risks. 

“Food animal veterinarians are key to protecting key components of the food supply chain, protecting human health by reducing the risk of zoonotic disease, and providing economic support for rural communities,” Neill said. “Without addressing the problem systematically, animals, humans, and communities will all be at risk—both economically and from a health standpoint.” 

A new scholarship program at Henning’s alma mater may help rectify that situation. 

Focusing on food animal medicine 

The KSU CVM recently received a $250,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to create the Rural and Underrepresented Scholarship for Hopeful Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Students (RUSH DVM) program. 

Callie Rost, DVM, assistant dean for admissions and director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the KSU CVM, told NEWStat that the overarching goal of the RUSH DVM program is to provide scholarships to recruit, engage, retain, mentor, and train committed underrepresented scholars who want to pursue a DVM degree with a focus on food animal medicine.   

Rost noted that most students entering the veterinary profession in the US are white (76.5%), female (83.2%), and from a suburban setting (49.3%), She said that underrepresented students include male students, those from rural backgrounds, and students of color. 

She said mentoring and shadowing opportunities will be made available to participants as well as opportunities for outreach and training. Students participating in the RUSH DVM program “will graduate with a lower debt load and the program will foster economic opportunity in their futures.” Additionally, students participating in the RUSH DVM program will have access to Special Experiential Learning (SEL) funds that can be used for living expenses, travel expenses, and more. 

Rost told NEWStat that the RUSH DVM scholarships are offered as recruiting scholarships to students who have applied and been offered acceptance into the DVM program at KSU. “Students from underrepresented groups and applicants from rural backgrounds with underserved areas of interest were identified and offered the scholarships,” she said. These scholarships are not available for veterinary technician/nursing or undergraduate students. 

About RUSH DVM scholarships 

The upshot is that KSU will offer five $9,000 scholarships over each of the next four years. “Recipients will also receive $2,375 to be used toward attending a professional meeting or conference during their DVM education,” she added. 

Neill said that newly minted DVMs in general don’t necessarily have to choose between large and small animal medicine—it’s possible to do both: “While few veterinary graduates pursue solely food animal [practice], about 9% do pursue mixed animal [practice],” Neill said. “Many of those graduates are also assisting the rural and food animal populations.” 

KSU is already doing better on that front than many schools; of the 2023 graduating class, 7% went into food animal practice, 20.9% went into mixed animal practice and 1.2% went into equine practice. 

Living the rural veterinarian dream 

Heartland Veterinary Center is a case in point. Being a mixed animal practice allows Nick Henning to focus on food animal medicine while his wife Samantha concentrates on her passions: equine and companion animal medicine.  

Nick said that working in a rural setting is very rewarding. “You not only get to make a difference in the lives of animals, but you also make a difference in the lives of your clients and their operations,” he said.  “One veterinarian can make a difference over a very large [number] of operations and animals out here.”  

He added that Heartland’s current practice area is approximately 100 miles in any direction from Ness city, with some clients “far beyond that.”   

Henning thinks all that driving is definitely worth it: “Our goal as food animal veterinarians is to guarantee that the calves born on the farm never have a bad day.”    


Tony McReynolds is a temporarily petless freelance writer who lives near a dog park in Lafayette, Colorado. He dreams of one day owning a Newfie who isn’t afraid of water (which the last one was, and seriously, how is that even possible?).       

Cover photo credit:  © Nikola Stojadinovic E+ via Getty Images Plus 

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



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