(KOKH) — Oklahoma has about 78,000 farms and is second in the country with almost 2-million beef cows, but there aren't enough veterinarians practicing rural medicine...
"My grandpa taught me how to palpate a cow when I was about 12 years old." says Dr. Rebekah Hartfield, "of course when I was twelve I didn't know I wanted to go to vet school either."
Fox 25 followed Dr. Hartfield to a farm just outside Cushing to check a small herd of cows.
"You can feel her overies and different things in there that basically tell us she's pregnant. about 4 months ..."
The 2016 graduate of OSU practices mixed veterinary medicine meaning she works with large and small animals.
It's something very few vets do these days.
"The whole vet community has talked about the shortage of rural vets and has been talking about that for years" says Dr. Chris Ross, the Interim Dean of the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences
Ross says only 17% of vet school graduates practice mixed medicine.
"Rural medicine can be difficult. You're traveling a lot and you're having to go an hour to one farm call." explains Dr. Hartfield.
One reason - "windshield time" as Ross calls it, vets don't get paid while driving to and from rural farms.
The American Veterinary Medical Association reports there are 1,100 counties nationwide that desperately need vets because food animals could be at risk for dangerous disease outbreaks that can destroy livestock and threaten rural economies.
A USDA program offers up to $75,000 in loan repayment to entice graduates to work where there aren't enough rural vets.
So who is addressing this shortage?
There's a lot of women in my class that practice mixed animal... And maybe do better than the guys sometimes! said Hartfield.
The tables turned in about 1988 when for the first time ever more women graduated in vet medicine and joined the AVMA.
And the gap keeps growing.
This year OSU's freshman class is 84% women
Meah Opbe was raised in Spencer and knew she wanted to be a vet when she was five.
"I don't really even know where it came from, just one day I realized what the profession was and I wanted to do it!" she said.
A fourth year student at OSU, Opbe will graduate soon and practice mixed vet medicine.
"I definitely want to do both, I'm just one of those people who couldn't make up my mind...definitely some equine and some small animals as well." she said.,
Hartfield is addressing the shortage, too by visiting rural and urban schools with animals.
"More than half of these kids hadn't pet a pig, seen a pig, before." said Hartfield.
She's also writing books to get kids interested early.
"I want to educate kids so that one, they recognize when their animal is sick but then also, maybe, feed that desire to maybe go and be a veterinarian one day, maybe even go to OSU.
Hartfield is using the sales of her books to fund a scholarship to support an OSU vet medicine student who wants to practice rural veterinary care just like she does.