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Cattle grazing on a Colorado ranch.

Colorado has a shortage of veterinarians in all or parts of 28 Colorado counties, and medical professionals who relocate there may be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $75,000.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program has opened applications, with approximately $7.2 million of funding available, to provide eligible veterinarians with $25,000 per year for three years of loan forgiveness.

“Resolving the burden of veterinary school loan debt expands veterinarians’ capabilities to better serve within their local communities,” said Colorado State Veterinarian Keith Roehr. “When debt loads are reduced, veterinarians have a greater ability to establish roots in rural communities and further animal health services in the areas they serve.”

The Colorado counties experiencing shortages of vets are almost exclusively rural, including Alamosa, Elbert, Lincoln, Rio Blanco and northeast Weld counties. All of them are experiencing a “type II” shortage, which means that applicants to the program must dedicate at least 30% of their time, or 12 hours per week, to providing services to the food animal sector in rural areas. The veterinarians will also likely provide services to companion animals to ensure financial stability.

For shortage area 205, centered around Durango, the nomination form plainly describes to applicants the difficult working conditions they will encounter. “The Continental Divide is the border of one of the counties and often makes traveling between the two areas impassable during the winter, and the veterinarians in the neighboring county do not cross over into this area,” the description reads. “Recruitment efforts in the last several years have only resulted in one new veterinarian staying in the area. This area has been nominated in various county combinations since the program inception with only 1 successful applicant.”

The vet for area 205 is expected to care for beef cattle, swine and small ruminants — sheep and goats.

The program, established in 2010 and run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is able to fund 40 to 50 awards annually. Typically there are 150 applicants who hope to serve in roughly 185 shortage areas nationally.

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