Veterinarian-turned-legislator takes action, says Colorado vet shortage is hurting pets and people

A veterinarian turned state legislator is introducing a package of bills aimed at addressing an increasingly dire shortage of veterinarians in Colorado.

There are about 3,800 veterinarians in the state for 2.5 million dogs and cats, and that doesn’t include horses and farm animals. A recent survey of Colorado veterinarians by Colorado State University’s Center for Animal-Human Policy found that 70% turn away animals every week because their practices are so overloaded. Now, state Rep. Karen McCormick, whose district includes Boulder County, is taking action.

He says when he became a veterinarian 40 years ago, pet parents had a choice of professionals. Not anymore, he says: “The profession as a whole saw this coming.”

Former veterinarian and Colorado State Representative Karen McCormick


For years, the demand for veterinary care has been expanding as the supply of veterinarians has been shrinking. But now it’s reached a tipping point, and McCormick says animals aren’t the only ones suffering: “We’re part of the firewall that protects public health and safety in our country.”

That firewall, he says, is weakening as veterinarians — especially those who care for large farm animals in rural Colorado — are stretched thin. Not only are more veterinarians retiring than graduating, but 80 percent of those who graduate, McCormick says, only care for companion animals.

One of her bills would pave the way for more telehealth care in veterinary medicine, setting clear guidelines for when and how it can be done. The US Food and Drug Administration oversees veterinary medicine and requires veterinarians to see animals at least once in person before actually caring for them. They are also limited in what they can prescribe during a virtual visit.

McCormick also plans to introduce a bill to expand the role of veterinary technicians: “We’re losing veterinary technicians in our field an average of seven years in the field because they’re not getting the most out of their training and education, they’re not being paid enough.”

Dr. Nancy Bureau at Left Hand Animal Hospital in Niwot says the bills are long overdue and will help improve access and lower costs.

Dr. Nancy Bureau, with Left Animal Hospital in Niwot, Colorado


“Our teams of veterinary technicians are incredibly talented people,” he said. “If they can be encouraged to use those skills and be encouraged to have more career advancements, it’s a win for everyone. It’s a win for animals, it’s a win for pet parents, it’s a win for These vets will be a victory for veterinary medicine.”

The federal government has offered student loan forgiveness to vets willing to practice in rural areas, but many don’t stay so McCormick is also introducing a bill that would provide earned income tax credits to those who do.

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