Half a century ago, West Texas faced a health care crisis. From the Panhandle to the Big Bend, a critical doctor shortage — just one for every 1,350 people in 1969 — plagued the region. Traditional medical education couldn’t meet the needs of rural Texas, threatening public health and limiting the potential of our economy.
Addressing the problem required the ingenuity and community spirit for which we West Texans are famous. The solution came from Texas Tech in the form of a new medical school with an innovative, community-based approach to medical education that focused on training health care providers for rural areas.
It was a non-traditional approach, but it worked. Today, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center is recognized as one of the best in the nation. Our graduates are serving rural communities throughout Texas, and the number of doctors in the region has nearly doubled.
Now we’re facing another potential crisis — a severe shortage of veterinarians specializing in large animals and serving rural communities. Texas lags behind significantly in its number of veterinarians when considering our immense livestock and animal populations, and with an aging veterinarian demographic, the issue is getting much worse.
More than 30 percent of all Texas veterinarians are 60 years of age or older, and in the rural communities that percentage increases to nearly half. Many rural counties don’t have a veterinarian at all. The problem threatens the very foundations of our economy, as the cattle and agriculture industries help ensure the safety of our food supply and contribute greatly to the prosperity of Amarillo, this region and our state.
As in 1969, the Texas Tech University System and the communities of West Texas are stepping up to the challenge. We are proposing the creation of a four-year college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo, specifically designed to meet the unique needs of our agriculture industry. Using an innovative model, we will focus on producing practice-ready veterinarians with the skills, knowledge and passion to serve rural America.
Our goal is not to duplicate the state’s existing veterinarian medicine efforts. Rather, we aim to complement them and provide new solutions in an efficient manner. Traditional education options have not been able to keep pace with demand, nor have they adapted to the needs of the agriculture industry. This was recently reaffirmed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which voted to consider innovative models such as ours and opened the door for a new veterinary college in Texas.
Our model also addresses accessibility and affordability. Currently, one-third of Texas students leave the state for veterinarian medicine education. By partnering with local clinics and veterinarians, we will offer students a cost-effective option that reduces the debt burden and provides incentives to serve in rural communities upon completion of the program. This will avoid costs associated with a traditional teaching hospital and enrich the overall practice of veterinary medicine.
The Texas Tech University System is uniquely positioned to provide veterinary medicine in West Texas. We will utilize the strengths of two of our universities: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which has an Amarillo campus that is home to both the School of Pharmacy and a branch of the School of Medicine, and Texas Tech University, a national research university with agricultural prominence. Leveraging our existing physical, academic and research infrastructure will ease the burden on taxpayers and provide a solid foundation for growth and success.
With more than 450 students, including veterinary medicine and additional graduate students, and 100 high-paying jobs, our proposal will be a boost to Amarillo’s economy, providing an annual impact of more than $76 million. It also will serve as a catalyst for industry partnerships and expanded research in food technology, animal health and disease-outbreak prevention.
Community and industry support are essential to launching this school, and we are humbled by the overwhelming encouragement for our efforts. We look forward to partnering with local veterinarians to provide clinical training that gives students hands-on experience in the agriculture industry. Collaboration is integral to the success of our future students and the overall impact of the school. No doubt, it is a Texas-sized endeavor.
This is an exciting time for the Texas Tech University System and Amarillo. Like in 1969, we are facing a serious situation. But this time we know the playbook — we know how to create innovative education programs that meet the needs of rural communities. We’ve done it before, and we are committed to doing it again to secure the future for the next generation of West Texans.