A “city chick” from San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Callie Kuntz always knew she wanted to work with animals in some way. She was studying to be an equine specialist at Colorado State University (CSU) when an internship at the Beef Improvement Center in Saratoga, Wyoming, exposed her to a slower environment and a much more hands-on experience. Living in a more rural area for the first time, she realized that it was actually a very good fit for her. “Even though I had a ton of long nights, I knew that it’s exactly where I wanted
to be,” Kuntz says.
In 2017, Kuntz graduated from CSU’s DVM program, and in late 2018, she purchased an existing practice from a retiring veterinarian and began practicing there herself.
Kuntz, who now serves clients in a 50-mile radius of Yuma, became one of the first two recipients of the new state-funded Veterinary Education Loan Repayment Program (VELRP), which provides up to $70,000 toward each student’s loan debt over the course of four years. Established by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2017 and administered by CSU, the initiative enables veterinary school graduates like Kuntz to work in rural communities where their services are often difficult to find.
A Dire Need
In some areas, farmers may have to drive more than 100 miles to get veterinary care, says Thom Hadley, executive director at CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. There simply aren’t enough vets to go around, he says, partly because “the pay
isn’t nearly as high as it would be if you’re a small animal practice owner in an urban area.” In addition, not all veterinarians are cut out for a rural lifestyle – one reason the VELRP gives priority to applicants who have lived in a shortage area.
In addition, many rural vets are nearing retirement age. “I’ve heard from the farmers and ranchers that they’re nervous about where they’re going to get care when those guys retire,” Kuntz says.
The VELRP is already a win-win for farmers and vets, Hadley says. “For us, it’s a marriage of getting those veterinarians out there who want to be there, as well as serving a population that is in the greatest need in Colorado.”
For Kuntz, the program has been a godsend. “I am extremely blessed to have this jump start for my career and have part of my student loans covered,” she says. “I could be easily making a lot more money doing small animal [care] in Denver, but that’s not where I want to be.”