GREAT FALLS — The Great Falls Development Alliance alongside industry partners hosted a discussion at Benefis Health System in Great Falls in regards to the possibility of establishing a veterinary medicine school.
One of the actions in the Economic Development Strategy GFDA adopted in June was to find a prospect and commission a feasibility study to create another health-related professional school in Great Falls.
GFDA president Brett Doney said "There is a projection that if there aren't more vet schools in the U.S. by 2030, 75 million household pets in the country won't have veterinary care. For the ranching industry, it's more dire than that."
GFDA noted that Montana doesn’t have a vet school, and neither does Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Nebraska.
Tripp Umbach, connected GFDA with Roseman University of Health and Sciences, located in Henderson, Nevada. GFDA met with Roseman’s leadership virtually, followed by numerous visits back and forth, culminating in a joint decision to partner to commission a feasibility study, funded 50/50 by GFDA and Roseman.
Roseman's president Renee Coffman explained the importance this addition would serve.
"First is the need," she said. "There is a huge need for veterinarians across the United States, but more specifically, in this region. Montana. The surrounding region doesn't have a vet school to provide veterinarians and help alleviate that shortage. The need is number one. Number two, can we help make a difference in the care of animals, both large and small? We can do that by educating them well, and bringing that into this region where it doesn't exist currently."
The study laid out some of the benefits and obstacles that will come with establishing a veterinary school. The study also developed a distributed model that would embed students with existing veterinary care practices across the state and beyond, providing real-life experience to the students and much needed support for current veterinarians.
Doney said, "The concept is to do a distributed school, so the students are going to be immediately working throughout the Great Falls region. As they get into their later years, throughout the state and beyond in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Hopefully, they'll fall in love with the communities, our rural and tribal communities, and stay here and practice. The immediate benefit to the Great Falls area, is that we'll have all of these smart students to help our existing veterinarians.
The presentation noted that there are about 540 veterinarians employed in the state of Montana. However, the average age of those veterinarians is 60. Additionally, building a facility would cost $75 million, along with $16.7 million in startup funding.
The veterinary school's construction impact would be around $131.7 million with 892 jobs and $3.2 million in state and local taxes. If fully operational, there would be an estimated $90.2 million economic impact consisting of 532 jobs and $3.5 million in state and local taxes.
Coffman described this project as "Field of Dreams."
"If you build it, they will come," she said. "By having this hub here of veterinary education, I think it becomes very attractive to potential students, potential faculty that are in these surrounding states that don't have that opportunity to come here and be part of a new and vibrant college of Veterinary medicine that we hope for Great Falls."
Roseman University plans to move forward with additional planning and development. They will work to finalize a working business model and make a formal announcement in early 2024.