In the countryside, medical deserts also concern veterinarians

In the countryside, medical deserts also concern veterinarians

“Being a veto in the campaigns is a public service.” Faced with the glaring lack of veterinarians in rural areas where, however, their role is crucial for the health monitoring of livestock, the challenge is to attract young graduates.

François Blache, a breeder in Marcols-les-Eaux, a remote village in Ardèche, has seen the situation deteriorate over 30 years. “When I started, the veterinarian was in Saint-Pierreville, 15 minutes away“, he tells AFP in his stable, with his Salers cows and his sheep. Today, his veterinarian is almost an hour away by mountain road.

Disinfected boots on his feet, syringe in hand, the latter jumps over the barrier blocking a heifer for a blood test.

Based in Privas, the capital, Romain Deloncle, 39, devotes two-thirds to pets, a third to farm animals.

Monitoring livestock is more physical and much less profitable, as the cost of care cannot exceed the value of the animal. And unaccounted transport time: “we are not going to charge the cost of a bac+7“, especially to farmers who earn little, explains the veterinarian.

Yet, “it's rewarding to go to farms to help people do their work correctly and protect the population against possible epidemics.” he continues, also praising the “trust” with breeders. But he thinks he'll drop out before full retirement.

Caesarean section

The shortage in rural areas affects the whole of Europe, with “scarlet” territories, such as Ardèche or Yonne, notes Matthieu Mourou, of the National Order of Veterinarians.

The causes: insufficient number of veterinarians, a new generation with “different needs and ways of working“, fewer young people are turning to “rural life”, he explains. In 2023, only 15.2% of veterinarians would devote themselves to this activity.

In my class, around forty of us out of 160 chose rural“, testifies Marina Abbadie, 26 years old, graduated last year from the Toulouse veterinary school.

The young woman, originally from the Pyrénées-Atlantiques where she grew up in the countryside, “could not see myself doing anything else“. More “it's true that there are constraints and first of all the on-call duty: every other weekend, plus two to three nights each week. It comes back quickly, when you are woken up for a cesarean section in the middle of the night and you have to start again in the morning…

Kneeling behind a sick cow ready to calve, Marina Abbadie thrusts her gloved arm up to the shoulder into the animal slumped in the straw, in order to check the calf's condition.

We try to do our job correctly but, sometimes, we don't have time (…) Yesterday, I did 500 km during the day“, she confides.

Determined to specialize in obstetrics, she came to farming land in Yonne, which she did not know. Last October, the young veterinarian signed a job contract in a practice in Cussy-les-Forges.

There are a dozen veterinarians missing in the department, out of around sixty“, assesses Marc Arbona, vice-president of the order of veterinarians of Burgundy-Franche-Comté.


To attract young people, the Yonne department has been subsidizing interns since March 2023: 300 euros per month for accommodation, as much for travel costs.

It can help“, believes Marina Abbadie, installed too early to benefit from aid. “Above all, the territory must become attractive“, an allusion to the depopulated countryside, often emptied of shops and services.

The lack of veterinarians can be serious, according to her. “Sometimes, we arrive at a farm that hasn’t seen a vet for a long time. For the animals, it’s often too late.”

No vet, no farming“, adds the Ardèche breeder who sees it as a “public service” mission. “We must have a veterinary advisor“responsible for the health monitoring of the breeding stock,” he explains.

Faced with the situation, he “learned to be independent“, has “deal by phone“, or even to take down an animal himself at the Privas clinic. “I am not going to see Romain for mastitis (inflammation of the udder) or a lambing that is not going well“, he says. And he chose to raise Salers cows, a rustic breed that does not have “almost no worries at calving“.