Vet Loan Program awards grantsWritten by Christy Hemken
Both Mandy Thoet of Worland and Gretchen Saam of Basin say they’ve been watching the program on both the federal and state levels.
“I went to college here in Wyoming and I have a lot of family here, so I wanted to come back but it was very difficult,” says Saam, who operates Saam Vet Clinic along with her husband. “It was almost impossible, financially.”
“I just graduated in May, and the grant has been a big relief because we come out of school so far in debt,” says Thoet, who is originally from the Gillette area. “I always wanted to come back to a rural area, and now I’m in a mixed-animal practice and really enjoying it.”
She says it’s hard to be in Wyoming as a professional, whether it be as a doctor, dentist or vet, because the pay levels are so different than other states. “We’ve been handling the monthly loan payments on our own, but now the state is going to help us out in return for me practicing in the area for three years,” she adds.
To qualify, each grant recipient had to find a sponsor to cover 25 percent of the payment. Most have received their sponsorships through the vet clinics in which they work.
“There are a variety of entities that can be sponsors,” says Wyoming Livestock Baord contract veterinarian Fred Emerich, who has worked on the program since the legislation passed. “In almost every case this year the sponsors are the hospitals for which the veterinarians are working.”
Saam says her clinic is split evenly between small animal and food animal work.
“I’m hoping to reapply when this grant ends,” says Saam. “Most vets coming out of school have an average of $100,000 in debt, and any amount the Wyoming Livestock Board can issue is helpful.”
Emerich says the grant contract is for three years, while in the law there are two years of funding. “There are no guarantees, but there are assurances for a second biennium of funding,” he says. “It’s in statute that we’ll be included in the supplemental budget for 2011 and 2012.”
In this biennium the program received $270,000, with the state providing 75 percent of the grants. “The additional 25 percent from sponsors brings the total to $360,000, so we decided to spend $120,000 this first year because next year we’ll fund both new veterinarians as well as the existing ones,” says Emerich.
None of this year’s applicants received 100 percent of the possible grant because none of them practice on strictly food animals. Emerich says most were funded at 50 percent, which also allowed the WLSB to fund more people. “By doing that we can get farther ahead of the game in terms of maintaining and recruiting veterinarians, and we can get more people involved,” he says.
Emerich says that, as with any new program, changes will be made before the next round of applicants, like enhancement to the application itself in order to give the Board more information to help with their decision. “We’re going to move the timeline for applications to coincide with the end of the school year, and move up the actual granting of the funds to fit better with the fiscal year. We’re also in the process of updating policy and answering questions from the Board. Before we actually went through this once I don’t think any of us realized where the potholes would be.”
“We have a great state that’ll help us pay our loans back,” concludes Thoet of the grant program.