CAMDEN, S.C. — A lack of veterinary services is a nationwide crisis that's having local implications. Now, local colleges and universities like Clemson are looking at ways to solve the problem.
"I've never seen more practices in South Carolina desperate; trying to find more associates," says Boyd Parr, the chair of the Clemson Veterinary College Steering Committee and retired veterinarian.
He said the lack of veterinarians has put a squeeze on the ability of people to have their pets seen promptly.
"There are only about a little over 1,400 veterinarians licensed with South Carolina addresses by LLR the board of vet examiners," Parr said. "That includes people who are active and retired. That's a very low number for a state growing as fast as South Carolina is."
Parr said it has become an issue over time that was first impacting large animals and livestock and has now trickled down to small animal practices in metropolitan areas.
One of the large animal veterinarians impacted by the shortage is Nicole Cunningham who works for South Carolina Equine Associates. She said the number of applicants has dwindled in recent years.
"Each time we have had a position for a new veterinarian, the number of applicants has dwindled excessively," Cunningham said. "So, we've gone from, you know, choosing between, you know, five to six candidates to only having one or two candidates apply over a two-year period."
The shortage is being felt among customers with animals as well.
"I noticed it was taking a long time to get routine veterinary care, and my fear, oh my gosh, is if there is more of an extreme vet shortage, I'm not going to be able to get care for my horses," Camden resident Linda Franklin-Moore said.
With two horses, three cats, and a dog, she's been concerned about the lack of veterinarian access and, like many, wonders how it can be solved.
But, according to Parr, one thing missing from South Carolina may play a role.
"South Carolina probably is one of the only states in the South that does not have an in-state college of veterinarian medicine," Parr said. "So, that is being explored, with the support of some members of the legislature. If we have a school of medicine here, in S.C., the number that tends to stay here is much higher."
Parr said that the school is still in the early stages but prospects look promising. The state also increased the number of seats at out-of-state schools this past fall from 26 to 46 for those looking to enter veterinarian medicine. The option allows South Carolina residents to receive the equivalent of in-state tuition at an out-of-state school.