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Ky. House bill would clear path for Murray State vet school

Murray State University Digital Media

A bill proposed in the Kentucky House of Representatives Monday would clear the path for Murray State University to offer degrees in veterinary medicine.

House Bill 400,which has over 50 sponsors, would allow the far western Kentucky college to offer doctoral degrees required for professional practice and licensure in veterinary medicine. If the bill passes, it would allow MSU to establish Kentucky’s first veterinary school.

Rep. Richard Heath of Graves County, the Graves County Republican serving as the bill’s lead sponsor, said it’s not the first time that a veterinary school has been proposed in the Commonwealth.

“This conversation has been going on since 1950, about having a school of veterinary medicine in the state of Kentucky. And here we are again. This time, we're going to see if we can get it across the finish line,” he said.

Last summer, MSU’s Board of Regents approved the creation of a task forceto study the potential of offering a veterinary medicine program in far western Kentucky. A feasibility study produced by the task force found that the college’s Hutson School of Agriculture is “perfectly positioned” to address the growing need for rural veterinarians in the Commonwealth.

In the United States, there are 32 veterinary colleges accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. While there is currently no veterinary school in the Commonwealth, Kentucky has contracts with Auburn University and Tuskegee University in Alabama for seats in their veterinary programs reserved for Kentucky residents. Auburn has 38 seats for Kentucky residents, while Tuskegee has three. Overall, around 70 students from Kentucky are accepted each year to out-of-state veterinary schools.

Last year, Heath said more than 130 Kentucky residents applied for the spots in Auburn’s veterinary program. The state representative hopes that, by opening a veterinary school in Kentucky, more veterinary students will consider staying and working in the Bluegrass State after graduation.

“We want to provide a place where those students can go to college and get a degree in veterinary medicine here in Kentucky, instead of going out of state,” Heath said.

Murray State University has the largest estimated pre-veterinary medicine/veterinary technology enrollment of any university in Kentucky, according to a release from the school.

While there are over 1,500 practicing veterinarians in Kentucky, just 3% of them treat large farm animals like cows, pigs and sheep. According to Murray State’s vet school feasibility study, that works out to 42,592 large animals per large animal veterinarian in the Commonwealth.

Brian Parr, the dean of Murray State’s agriculture college, said adding the program at Murray State could help bring that ratio down in time.

“The development of a new School of Veterinary Medicine is the next logical step to serve our students while addressing a key statewide need that will be of great benefit,” Parr said in a press release. “We are very appreciative of all individuals who have been instrumental in lending their support and involvement on behalf of this initiative.”

Heath said part of his goal with laying the legal groundwork to establish the program is to increase the number of veterinarians in Kentucky willing to treat those large animals. He said many veterinary students choose to make more money caring for small animals instead of running clinics for larger farm animals.

“I don't blame the students for coming out and following the money and going in, it's easier obviously to work on a dog or a cat than it is a cow or a horse. But we still need somebody willing to work on the cow and the horse,” he said.

The Republican legislator also hopes that opening an in-state veterinary school could bring tuition costs down for Kentuckians interested in the career path.

According to the feasibility study, the earliest Murray State could admit students into its veterinary school – if it receives the needed legislative appropriations – would be in Fall 2027.

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.
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