By David A. Rustebakke, DVM
Dr. Rustebakke is a long time veterinarian and owner of Rustebakke Veterinary Service
I graduated from veterinary school in 1972. The world was different then. The Vietnam war was in full swing, President Nixon was getting ready to run for a second term, Neil Armstrong had recently walked on the moon, and a new car could be purchased for under $2000. Gasoline was 30 cents per gallon. A young WSU radiologist, Dr. Norman Rantanen was working on sonar technology borrowed from the navy and was trying to figure out how to use sound waves as a diagnostic imaging modality. He and other pioneers in the field were successful, and now most veterinary practices and all human hospitals have diagnostic ultrasound machines. Dr. Barry Grant, an equine surgical resident showed me a calculator that he had bought for about $300 that would add, subtract, multiply, and divide; it would fit in the palm of your hand. Calculators in those days were called adding machines; they weighed 10 to 20 pounds, and were as big as a typewriter, another common fixture on every desk. The administration building at WSU had a large room that housed a computer to keep track of student records; it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and had a fraction of the computing power of my cell phone. Needless to say, the internet was years in the future.
Veterinary students were different then also. In my class of 50 students, 45 of us were male and most of us came from farms and ranches. Most of us went to veterinary school to learn how to take care of livestock and the occasional pet, and our dream was to go back to the small towns and ranches from which we came. Of the 5 women in my class 3 entered primarily large animal practice, one went into mixed practice, and only one went into small animal practice. We were expected to wear white or pastel shirts and neckties to class, which most of us did.
I did ranch work and trained horses during the summers, cleaned kennels at 6 AM every day at the Veterinary School during the school year, and worked weekends for a local Whitman County farmer to help pay my way through college. Wages for students at that time was about one dollar per hour. Tuition at WSU was $172.50 per semester, and Veterinary students paid another $100 to pay for lab supplies. I came out of school with a whopping $5,000 student loan debt. Starting wages for a new Veterinary graduate going into rural practice was in the neighborhood of $1000 to $1200 per month. I ended up going into the US Army as a Captain in the Army Veterinary Corps at a salary of about $900/month; it looked like a fortune to me at the time!
At WSU today (and WSU is typical of the other veterinary colleges across the country) more than 80% of the Veterinary students are female and the majority come from urban areas. Veterinary students with a farm background are rare, and many of those who do come from rural areas choose to go into urban practice following graduation. Most students graduate with student loan debts in excess of $100,000, and loan debts in excess of a quarter of a million dollars are not uncommon.
This is creating a crisis in rural communities as it is becoming increasingly more difficult to recruit new Veterinary graduates to rural areas where the nation's livestock is produced. Many new graduates actually want to do both large and small animal practice, however not many have the background to successfully work on farm animals and soon lose their desire to do so. Many new graduates who wish to settle in rural areas are forced to go into high end urban practices that can afford to pay them the huge salaries they need to service their college loan debts.
Rural America, particularly in the West, is full of small communities with closed veterinary clinics or clinics with an older veterinarian unable to find a young associate willing to move there and take over his practice. In our local area, Pomeroy and Dayton in Washington; and Grangeville, Orofino, and Kamiah in Idaho have either lost their local veterinarian or have veterinarians wanting to retire and nobody to take over their practice.
We are fortunate here that we are in close proximity to a Veterinary College at WSU, and as a preceptor practice we assist in training of senior Veterinary students; consequently we have had some success at recruiting associates through our contacts there. We have also been able to find quality people from out of the area who find this community an attractive place in which to live. Even though we are somewhat rural we are in close proximity to a reasonably large city (Spokane), we have access to some of the most spectacular outdoor activities in the country, and we are in close proximity to four great educational institutions (LCSC, UI, WSU, and WWCC). In addition we have some of the most wonderful clients in the world which makes it much easier to recruit quality people!
The Covid Viral pandemic has created a whole new bunch of challenges not only for us, but for most every business and household in the country (and world). Our Veterinarians and staff appreciate your patience in helping us work through this crisis, we appreciate all of you!
Dr. David A. Rustebakke
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Our 5 doctors have nearly 70 years of combined experience to serve you and your animals! We are fortunate to have that level of experience in our doctors and staff. This is a place we can go to get an insight into their thoughts.
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