Solving the Veterinary Debt Crisis

Pen, Calculator, and Financial ChartsPlease excuse this short hiatus from the off-leash initiative, A fellow vet posted a provacative blog entry that inspired me to act.

You may have heard that veterinary medicine is headed toward a meltdown. With salaries stagnant, debt skyrocketing, and more veterinarians graduating as demand fails to keep pace with supply, there are some grim predictions about the future of our profession.

I won’t belabor the details but you can find out more at the following websites:

It’s easy to gnash our teeth about this. Various interest groups have done a great job blaming each other over the past couple years. Here’s how it usually goes:

  1. Veterinary students should be more frugal and not take on so much debt.
  2. Veterinary medical colleges should make veterinary education more affordable and stop increasing class sizes, since this increases competition.
  3. Veterinarians should be more aggressive about raising fees, pushing services, and improving efficiency to increase revenue.
  4. The pharmaceutical companies, pet food companies, and other veterinary suppliers should keep prices low and should prevent product diversion with its resulting price competition.

These would be helpful changes, but there are real hurdles making them hard for each group to accomplish. Even the most frugal veterinary students face higher tuition fees due to decreased government support of higher education. Increasing class sizes helps veterinary medical colleges keep per student cost lower. Veterinarians feel intense pressure to keep fees down from price conscious pet owners. Manufacturers cannot legally prevent fair competition.

We could all be taking steps to make a difference, but we all also face real challenges.

At the end of the day, playing the blame game just puts everyone on the defensive and nothing gets done.

Fortunately there are voices of hope. I join those who believe that a profession full of intelligent, creative, and compassionate people has an excellent chance of adapting to the challenges it faces.

But so far these hopeful voices – including mine – have done little more than express the hope that everything will turn out okay. Little coverage features concrete steps that are being taken to solve our profession’s uncertain future.

Let me propose that we, the vetverse, do the following:

1 – Attempt to make a difference in our own domain and share the results with others. In print, on twitter, on VIN, or by smoke signal if we have to.

2 – Publicize those that are making a difference and monitor their progress to see if we can duplicate their successes or avoid their mistakes.

3 – Brainstorm as many ideas as humanly possible and approach them with a “how could we make that work” instead of a “that could never work because…” mentality.

I was proud to be a part a series of “Elephant in the Room” talks that occurred at the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA) conferences in 2008 where veterinary students, veterinarians, veterinary business consultants, and industry representatives sat down to discuss the debt crisis. There was a lot of good discussion and it was uplifting to see everyone literally “at the table” talking about these issues.

But when it came to concrete action, we all seemed to be waiting for someone else to take the first step, to make the commitment to change.

We can’t wait for anyone else. The only way to make change happen is to start by changing yourself.

In the next month I plan to post another entry highlighting what steps are being taken so far by veterinarians and organizations around the country, if we can gauge anything from their results so far, and proposing some ideas of my own for discussion and action.

At any time feel free to share your thoughts. If you’re already working on something personally or in your organization to make a difference, feel free to post about it in the comments section. I will make a list of links and resources here that people can access and learn from.

Let’s change the world.

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