You’ve done it! Those years of hard work, countless sleepless nights of studying, and rotations with numerous professors have paid off—and, you have earned the right to place those three little letters after your name—DVM.

But those letters come with a hefty price tag. And the task of repaying that debt can be overwhelming at best.

Thankfully, loan repayment programs have been established to help new veterinarians lighten the load. And often, rural communities benefit as much as the recipient.

Christine B. Navarre, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La., serves on the American Association of Bovine Practitioners’ (AABP) Rural Practice Sustainability Committee.

She says the average debt a veterinary school graduate accumulates is approaching $150,000. The typical cattle practitioner earns a little less than $70,000 in his or her first year, not including unpaid internships.

With that vast difference in pay versus debt, worry is an understandable response.

“It’s very scary to them,” Dr. Navarre says. “Students take this very seriously, and it worries them. When you look at a 3:1 debt to salary ratio, it’s pretty tough. They have to make tough decisions—sometimes taking a job that isn’t their first choice, so that their spouse can also find a job. And it can sometimes prevent them from purchasing a home or buying into a practice.”

That’s where the AABP Rural Practice Sustainability Committee comes into play. This group of professionals is dedicated to helping new cattle veterinarians find grants and loan repayment programs to help offset their enormous debt load.

“The committee began a couple of years ago,” Dr. Navarre says. “We had heard for years it was difficult for practices to find vets willing to move into rural areas. Most recently, we began hearing there weren’t jobs. After much research, we discovered the issue is more about underserved areas, not necessarily the need for more vets.”

The committee is also working to help rural practices by offering business tools and tips, including seminars and webinars to help develop their rural practices.

Among the greatest programs in place, to date, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which provides incentives for veterinarians to move to rural areas.