Veterinary Debt – Starting Young

Stuck inside due to snow here in Washington DC, so it’s a perfect day for writing!

I wrote several months ago about the drama surrounding the veterinary debt crisis and my frustration about how much we complain about it in proportion to how much we do about it.

Happily, since writing that article I feel like I’ve seen groups coming out of the woodwork who are taking action and discussing new ideas. There’s hope.

For my part, I’m going to start a series that takes us chronologically through the process of becoming a veterinarian how we can tackle debt step by step.

Kid and DoctorOur path to veterinary debt begins before we get into veterinary school. For many, it begins when you’re 6 years old and someone asks “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I was always interested in science and medicine as a kid and depending on the year wanted to be a dentist, orthodontist, hand and wrist surgeon (I thought I could make a killing with carpal tunnel syndrome), or psychologist.

However it was in my first job as a pet store salesperson that I realized that giving advice to pet owners was the most fulfilling thing I had ever done. Naturally, I decided I had to become a veterinarian.

I didn’t find out the veterinary debt crisis until I was preparing for veterinary school interviews. Learning about the crisis influenced where I decided to go to veterinary school (sorry Cornell), but in the grand scheme of things, I got the news on really short notice.

Comment below. Did you ever want to become a veterinarian? Did finances get in your way? Did anyone ever discuss the financial side of being a veterinarian with you? When was the first time you heard about the veterinary debt crisis?

There are countless opportunities to help prepare future veterinarians for the realities of student debt long before they get to vet school.

Some say we shouldn’t scare promising future veterinarians away because of our cynicism about financial hardship.

There’s no need for unnecessary pessimism, but I think it’s unethical for us not to talk about the joys of this profession without discussing its challenges too.

Do me a favor – google “how to become a veterinarian”. Review the links on the first page of results (because let’s be honest, we only read the first page of results anyway).

Now search any of those pages for the word “debt”.

None of the top search results even mention debt. Surprising?

I might expect that from About.com, but this was true for PetMD, the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association, and UC Davis too. Even the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) did not list preparing financially on its pre-veterinary “to-do” list.

If we as a profession don’t put this information out there, who will?

The good news is there are some folks getting information out there to interested undergrads.

Major kudos to my alma mater Virginia Tech for including a veterinary debt calculator and links to online debt calculators in their pre-veterinary advising packets. While not part of its pre-vet to do list, AAVMC at least had a separate page on funding a veterinary education. Also thanks to a number of pre-veterinary clubs including Colorado State and Mount Holyoke College for posting information about student debt on their websites.

But we can do more.

Here are my recommendations for steps each of us can take now to help prepare veterinary hopefuls.

Have suggestions of your own? Comment below!

Veterinarians:

  • Provide a balanced perspective to students who ask you for advice about becoming a veterinarian, share the financial story of becoming a veterinarian too.
  • Discourage students from attending out-of-state or for-profit veterinary schools unless they have very strong financial resources.

Pre-Veterinary Clubs and Students:

  • Provide veterinary debt and budgeting tools to your members.
  • Have meetings on veterinary debt and have members write out action plans for how they are going to manage and minimize their debt.
  • Invite speakers who specialize in financial topics to speak at your meetings.
  • Help members find paid animal experience opportunities so they can save for veterinary school while becoming more qualified.

Veterinary Colleges:

  • Follow Virginia Tech’s lead, provide veterinary debt calculators and budgeting tools to applicants.
  • At Open Houses or any event where you disseminate information about applying to veterinary school, discuss the veterinary debt crisis and tools students and parents can use to prepare.
  • Work with your undergraduate school’s pre-veterinary club, send speakers to discuss financial topics including veterinary debt.
  • Write “How to Become a Veterinarian” articles for publication or on your school websites that discuss veterinary debt and how students can prepare.

Organized Veterinary Medicine (AVMA, AAHA, State VMAs)

  • Create “Career Day” resources for your members that include some mention of the cost of education. No need for dramatics, something as simple as “save your pennies” will at least plant a seed for consideration as students mature.
  • Write “How to Become a Veterinarian” articles for your website or publication that discuss veterinary debt and how students can prepare.
  • List paid job opportunities you have available to pre-veterinary students (kennel assistant? receptionist? veterinary assistant?) opportunities so they can get veterinary experience while making money.

Veterinary Industry

  •  If you run or sponsor “future veterinarian” type programs – make sure they mention something about financial preparation for veterinary school. Again, no need for all the details, but at least plant a seed for students to think about.

Here’s what I plan to do personally:

  • Write an article called “How to help my child become a veterinarian” that discusses the financial aspects of preparation too.
  • Reach out to those who have top rankings for “How to become a veterinarian” articles and see if they can add information about veterinary debt.
  • Reach out to veterinary journals and see if they would be interested in publishing an article on a topic like this.
  • Researching books, packets, and other resources available on “how to become a vet” and see if any of them list financial considerations, encourage their manufacturers and authors to include this in future iterations of their products.
  • Reach out to pre-veterinary groups including local groups here in Virginia and the national pre-veterinary group and encourage them to promote this topic and see if they would be interested in a webinar on this topic.

I’ll post my progress here on the blog. How about you? Commit to changing the world by posting your own goals below.

 

 

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