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Friday, June 6, 2014

Catch-up Blog #1: Veterinary Debt, Timing, Specialty

Let's get started on catching up with emails.  This one comes from Melissa back in February (sheesh!  I've been really bad!).  

-Debt after college is said to be a huge damper on things, but with a starting salary of let's say, $50,000 a year, you could pay $20,000 a year and be done with it in 5-7 years depending on how much debt you have. (plus whatever the interest comes out to be) This leaves you making $30,000 a year, but isn't that what many other professions start out with anyway? Should you be drawn away from becoming a vet for the debt when your second career choice may only be $40,000 a year? I guess the question is, should debt really be that huge of a consideration if you handle it the right way? 

Personally, I think that debt is a HUGE consideration.  I see newly graduated vets often, and all of them are faced with burdening debt.  No matter what they thought they had prepared for, it was harder than they had expected.  I believe that ignoring the post-graduation debt and thinking "I'll worry about that when the time comes" is incredibly naive, and not something that any prospective vet should consider.  Could someone live on $30,000 annually?  Yes, but it's not easy and requires an incredible amount of discipline.  If you're someone who can actually do this, then you have figured out how to repay your debt in a fraction of the time of most people.  If the second career choice has a lower salary, I'd also want to know how much debt would be accumulated getting that education and training.  Basically, what is the debt-to-income ratio of each choice?

-You reiterate how bad the timing is for becoming a vet in the next ten years is. However, I have read many different studies that have said that job prospects for becoming a vet are increasing faster than the average profession. Is this not reliable information? Or does is really depend on what kind of vet you are and your location?

I've seen studies on both sides, as well as know people in the profession.  The study that worries me the most shows that for the last three years the average debt load has risen annually, while the average starting salary has decreased annually.  That has caused the comparative debt load to increase for three years straight.  The only studies I've seen that have shown an improving job market have been performed by universities, governments of states without a vet school, or organizations trying to build a new vet school.  Basically, the main people trying to show that there is a need for more vets are the people who have a financial stake in the system making vets.  Am I being cynical?  Maybe.  But it seems to me that most of the unbiased studies show that we need to be graduating fewer vets, not more.  And even not taking that into account, the demand for vets varies greatly based on location or specialty.  For example, I've seen some of the justification for a new school in Arizona due to the need for large animal vets.  Yes, there seems to be a legitimate shortage in this field, but most new veterinary graduates don't go into this area of practice.  

-If you want to specialize in something, do you have to start the internship right when you get out of vet school? Or can you wait until you've paid off all of your debt and then go back and do it? What would you recommend? 

Now for a bit of good news.  Specialty training doesn't have to be done straight out of school.  I've known many vets who have worked in general practice and then gone back to pursue a specialty certification.  So you certainly could pay off your debt and then go back for a residency and additional training.  From one perspective this may actually be better, as you'll have had time to see what you really, honestly like and dislike about the profession.  Believe me, a newly graduated vet doesn't truly understand the pros and cons of life-long practice in a given area, no matter what they think.  I certainly didn't, and I've not known a vet yet who has.

Okay, so that's one down, and only a dozen or so more to go!