NATIONAL REPORT — Veterinary students have more in common than their love of animals.
They also share fears of educational debt and the uncertainty of their future careers. Many opinions exist on the state of
veterinary medicine — where it's going and where it needs to go.
The high cost of education
Raye Taylor-Vokes, 27, of Ames, Ind., is in her second year at St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine and says
she is "petrified" about repaying her student loan debt.
Her biggest concern after graduation is being able to live above the poverty line, while paying back her student loans.
"Our cost of attendance, let alone the cost of living, is rapidly increasing each year, while the costs of services and the
income of practicing professionals is barely creeping with inflation," she says.
"Not to mention that we feel like we are not getting more for our money. The outlook is dismal and is of utmost concern for
"I am actively considering options to reduce my debt concern, mostly centered around diversifying my career and considering
multiple concurrent positions upon graduation."
And she's not alone in her decision to plan early for life after graduation.
Kristen Twedt, 23, of Pittsburgh, Pa., entered Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, where she will graduate
in 2011, because of a love of science, especially how body systems work and interact.
But Twedt says she is "very concerned" with the amount of debt she is accruing, especially being an out-of-state student.
"I plan on combating that debt by practicing in Michigan after graduation for partial loan forgiveness and participating in
government programs, such as the Large Animal Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program."
Michael Farr Saksen, 26, of Essex Fels, N.J., who will graduate from the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine
in 2010, already had some leftover debt from undergraduate school before he started accumulating more in veterinary school.
His greatest concern upon graduation is "having to start paying back loans."
But Farr Saksen is being proactive.
"Saving money now so I can take out less loans is a big part," he says. "I plan on working very hard when I get out so I can
pay back the debt as early as possible."
Christopher Potanas, 26, of Milford, Ct., a third-year Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine student, knows
he will be working hard after graduation to pay back loans.
His fears upon graduation "are slanted toward financial stability."
"With the rising cost of education in this country, and me being an out-of-state student at Kansas State, my loan repayments
are going to be greater than most mortgages," he laments. "It is going to be tough to go through an internship and residency,
where I will not be as salaried as if I practiced, and have to repay my loans."
Still, Potanas says Kansas State's curriculum is fantastic, so his only concern truly is financial.
And he has a plan.
"I plan to offset the debt by working extra shifts to earn extra income and hopefully when I specialize or move on to practice,
my income will allow us (Potanas is married) to be comfortable after repayment."
Lindsey McCrickard, 22, of Vienna, Va., will graduate from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in
2011. She knows she will not live comfortably after graduation for a while. "I plan on living like a college student for a
few years after graduation," she says. "If I can manage to live on $35,000 a year for a few years, I will be able to pay off
a lot of my debt relatively quickly."
But it is a pervasive worry.
For Taylor-Vokes, it has been her biggest challenge in veterinary school.
"So much of my energy has been consumed by securing finances for school," she says.
"This carries into knowing that when I graduate, I will not have the leisure to choose an offer based on the 'perfect fit,'
but instead, with looming loan payments, I will have to make choices centered around pay."
So, what is next?
Like all college students, those in veterinary school have an idea of where they want to go after graduation, but they aren't
entirely sure where they will land.
Ashley Barnes, 24, of Louisville, Colo., will graduate from the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and
Biomedical Sciences in 2009. She knows she will pursue an internship and possibly a residency, but isn't sure of her area
McCrickard thinks she may like to go abroad for a few years and "give my time to help improve herd health and management practices
in areas where veterinary care is scarce."
Taylor-Vokes says the decision is difficult, but not because of lack of options.
"I thought that as I progressed in vet school that I would narrow my desires and now they have been broadened," she says.
"I am attracted to mixed-animal practice, but also feel enticed by surgery, emergency medicine and teaching. I feel my decisions
unfortunately will have to be linked to finances, due to loan debt."
Twedt is looking at mixed practice or possibly emergency medicine.
Farr Saksen wants to do an internship, then a residency in neurology/neurosurgery.
Potanas plans to enter a small-animal rotating surgery and medicine internship and then move on to a residency program in
internal medicine, oncology or surgery.
Whatever they do, all the students know it will be done in an ever-changing, progressive field.