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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Strong Desire To Be A Vet......It's Not Enough.

Recently I read an article about the opening of two new veterinary colleges in the us, one in Tennessee and one in Arizona.  Dr. Kathleen Goeppinger, the president and CEO of the Arizona school, Midwestern University, was quoted as saying, "I know the world says, 'Hey, vets don't get paid enough' and 'Vet school is expensive,' but I also know that the desire to be a vet is very strong in many people."
This statement really bothered me, and it should bother anyone who is thinking of attending vet school, especially these new ones.  Dr. Goeppinger is essentially saying "I know that the financial outlook for vets is pretty bad, but that doesn't matter because so many people want to be a vet."  It seems to me that she is saying that we shouldn't care about the employment prospects or debt load that new graudates face, because so many people are simply determined to be vets.  Unfortunately, the strength of desire to be a vet isn't enough to make someone successful and financially stable.  The attitude of the quote may not be what she intended, but she seems to come across as only caring about the desire and not the reality.
I'm also possibly a bit cynical at her motivation when I see what the tuition will be.  Midwestern University is enrolling 102 students at an annual tuition of $52,400.  The Tennessee school, Lincoln Memorial, is enrolling 95 students with a $40,241 tuition each.  This is a lot of money, around double the in-state rate for most veterinary colleges, and is a bit higher than most out-of-state rates.  Is the motivation for starting these private colleges based on improving the veterinary profession, or making a lot of revenue?  Even if I'm off base on my thoughts, students from these schools will graduate with $160,00-$200,000 in debt based on tuition alone.  That doesn't include living expenses, books, supplies, and so on.  My own school loans were needed for costs other than just tuition, and I'm sure the case is as true now as it was then.
Dr. Goeppinger's statement seems to imply that she cares about students' desire to become a vet.  But in that desire is she considering that her students will be graduating with a far higher debt than the national average?  And that her students will have well over $200,000 in debt to start in a job paying around $65,000 per year?  I realize that the article may have missed numerous other quotes, but there is nothing in the description of the new schools that addresses the great debt crisis that new veterinarians face.
Veterinarians have a very low unemployment rate, but it has been gradually increasing for several years.  The majority of new graduates find jobs, but the percentage is slightly lower than just a few years ago and the jobs are harder to come by.  Recent data from an AVMA study shows that there is approximately a 12.5% excess capacity in the profession, meaning that we have more vets than are currently needed.  Every year for the past three years in a row the average debt load has increased while the average starting salary has decreased.  The amount of debt most new graduates have make it difficult to even survive, let alone have families and get ahead financially. Yet despite these facts two colleges felt the need to add around 200 new vets per year to an already burdened profession, and will be doing so at high tuition rates.
I really wish that everyone who wanted to be a vet and could qualify for admission could go through school and be successful.  Unfortunately the reality says otherwise.  I don't want to completely dissuade everyone from applying to vet school, but I do think there should be a healthy dose of cold water thrown on the hot desire.  Be realistic when you consider this profession and have a good handle on the finances.
I certainly hope that there aren't other vet schools that will be opening in the near future.  That's the last thing our profession needs.


  1. Would you say that these figures (12.5% excess capacity) are only applicable to those entering the small animal profession? Because isn't there still somewhat of a "shortage" of people going into large animal veterinary care? Is there any data to say which direction these new students plan to take?

  2. Good question, Karissa. As far as I know, the study that resulted in that excess capacity number wasn't specific to small animal medicine, though I could be wrong. There definitely has been a shortage in SOME areas with large animal medicine. Some parts of the country definitely don't have enough large animal vets, but others are well served. So you can't even make a statement like "there is a shortage of large animal doctors" because it's not true everywhere. I don't know the percentage of new graduates who will go into a particular area of veterinary medicine, but based on my personal experience the majority do end up in small animal practice.

  3. There is no shortage of large animal veterinarians. The oversupply in equine practice is 20%+, IIRC.

    There are underserved areas, mostly in regions with insufficient paying clients to support a full-time veterinarian, or to support two veterinarians. If there is only one veterinarian, that person is on call 24/7/365. Think about that. I did it for a decade, and I'm no longer in clinical practice. The AVMA published a study of rural veterinarians a few years ago and concluded that even the most idealistic, well-intentioned new veterinarians only lasted an average of 5 years. At that point the negatives added up and they moved on.

    Veterinary schools are in the business of selling a product. Deans and professors are well-paid and somewhat insulated from the realities of running a business. I tell veterinary hopefuls, if someone (rich relative, parents, etc.) will pay for your education, go for it. If not, this is how to estimate loans and calculate loan payments for the next 30 years. Then I recommend they consider their other life goals (children, travel, retirement, hobbies, etc.) and decide whether they can live with that debt.

  4. Thanks for sharing the large animal data, Jenna. I'm not as familiar with that sector of the profession. And well stated overall! I completely agree! Despite what they may say, I really do think that vet school deans and administrators have very little idea of what the challenges are in the "real world". Most of them have always been in academia and have never had to run a successful practice. They may sympathize with their students, but they don't truly empathize with them since they've not been in the same positions.

  5. It's the same issue that's killing legal education. I've been saying for 30 years that just because there is demand for seats in law school (mostly by unqualified students), doesn't mean there's demand for graduates. Colleges and Universities saw starting law schools as a guaranteed way to suck in more students to pay outrageous tuition rates. Now that the bubble has popped, some of those schools will have to close.


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