Sami Kemp with cattle
Dr. Sami Kemp, ’22
Kyle O'Neil with cattle
Dr. Kyle O’Neill, ’23
Kyle Wielenga in cattle field
Dr. Lyle Wielenga, ’22
Victoria Hegstrom with dog
Dr. Victoria Hegstrom, ’23

Filling a Need

The reasons vary. Some grew up in rural Iowa. Others appreciated the small town feel. Many wanted to work in an underserved area.

All saw a need.

“I grew up working on dairy farms, so my passion has always been in large animal medicine,” said Dr. Sami Kemp (’22). “When I was on preceptorships during my fourth year, I did a fair amount of work in northeast Iowa and really liked the area.

“When I went to Edgewood for six weeks, I saw the need, and really wanted to become a part of the community.”

Today Kemp is an owner of Edgewood Veterinary Clinic where she practices mixed animal medicine. Kemp is among a growing trend of College of Veterinary Medicine graduates who have set up shop in rural Iowa.

And a major factor in their decision is the Rural Iowa Veterinary Loan Repayment Program (RIVLRP) and the federal Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP). The programs are designed to help ease the educational debt load for veterinarians as well as provide veterinary services to shortage areas.

RIVLRP provides loan repayment incentives to individuals who practice in specified locations for up to four years. A veterinarian can receive up to $60,000 and the total funding for the program, which was started in 2021, has increased from $300,000 to $700,000 annually.

Like Kemp, Dr. Kyle O’Neill (’23) is practicing in rural Iowa. He works in Williamsburg and is exclusively a large animal veterinarian.

“I am from Iowa and knew I wanted to stay in Iowa doing large animal medicine,” he said. “This program (RIVLRP) was a great way to tackle some of the student loan burden that comes with attending veterinary school.

“This program allowed me to practice large animal medicine exclusively without having to worry about how much I owe.”

Dr. Lyle Wielenga, a 2022 graduate, is practicing at Valley Veterinary Clinic in Rock Valley where he works primarily in food animal medicine focusing on bovine and swine. He also left Iowa State with a significant debt loan and RIVLRP has provided a way to make a dent in those bills.

“I was paying my student loans down as fast as possible when I was accepted into the program,” he said. “RIVLRP will enable me to be free of student loans in the next four years, allowing me to plan ahead for future financial needs.”

RIVLRP is open to veterinarians working in either a veterinary shortage area or in a rural service commitment area, which includes Iowa communities with a population of less than 26,000 and located more than 20 miles from a city with a population of at least 50,000.

Dr. Victoria Hegstrom (’23), is another Iowa Stater taking advantage of RIVLRP. Hegstrom practices mixed animal medicine at Ackley Vet Center.

“Before I came to Ackley there was only one veterinarian in the area so there was an obvious need,” Hegstrom said. “But even in the surrounding communities, the veterinarians were doing mostly small animal medicine and not focusing on the large animal clients.

“This program has allowed me to reduce my debt so I can focus on providing better service for my mixed animal clients.”

May 2024