Eltham animal owners are among the many in New Zealand who are benefiting from the Government's veterinarian rural bonding scheme that has now been in place for three years.
The bonding system attracts veterinary graduates with a taxable payment of $11,000 a year for up to five years, for every year they are in rural practice. There are 30 places available each year and they fill up very quickly, says the head of the Veterinary Association (NZVA) Gavin Sinclair
As a result of the scheme, Eltham has been able to attract graduate vets to work in the area, something that Alistair McDougall of Eltham Vets thinks would have been harder otherwise.
"Eltham and Stratford aren't exactly the Riviera and most professionals would choose to live closer to a bigger centre for all sorts of reasons. Also, the weather hardly compares to Hawkes Bay, Nelson or the Bay of Plenty, so we have our challenges attracting people here."
Leon Christensen, from the Waikato, is a graduate vet who came to work in Eltham under the scheme, and while he says he would have chosen to work in the area regardless, he does acknowledge the help the scheme offers in encouraging new vets to work in the rural areas.
For him, he says, the scheme meant "a good part of my loan would be paid of after three years" and that it can mean the "difference between two practices because it is effectively adding $10,000 dollars to your salary".
Alistair says that towns like Eltham benefit from the scheme because it prevents practices closing or getting smaller, which in itself makes attracting new vets even harder to out of the way areas if they are on call all the time. He also identifies that without enough trained vets in an area, there are risks to animal welfare generally along with the specific risk of disease outbreaks and biosecurity with diseases such as foot and mouth.
Gavin also highlights the importance of having qualified professionals overseeing the use of prescription-only medicines, which are needed for the treatment of a variety of animal diseases along with increasing productivity.
He says that this "eliminates the risk of untoward welfare issues or residues in food".
He adds that antibiotic residues would be a threat to the market access for meat and dairy products which would greatly impact farmers and others in the industry.
Alistair says the scheme offers graduates the chance to "become a valued and recognised part of a small community" and Leon agrees, adding that the scheme has seen him working in a "supportive clinic with a wealth of experience and dedicated farmers who take pride in their animals and animal health".
Leon plans to travel sometime in his future, but says he definitely sees himself returning to the area for work again, adding that "the Taranaki also has plenty to offer for the outdoor enthusiast with great fishing, diving and hunting right at your doorstep".