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Exploring cost of education, generational differences

DVM360 MAGAZINE


Much of what I know is hearsay, but it seems the higher-priced veterinary care is where clients are pulling back. You begin to wonder what the effect is going to be on specialty practices. Are there going to be changes or problems at veterinary practices as a result?

As you may already know, 40 percent of the students go on for advanced study. They are going to go into an internship. There are about 800 internships in the country. What is going to be their future and what sort of opportunities will they have? What are their starting salaries likely to be? My intuition is they are not going to be what they have been in the past.

Remember that during an internship and residency, you increase your debt because you are getting paid at minimal levels. That is a concern we all must think about, too.

I hope I am wrong about my gloomy predictions. But you can readily see why there is such a downturn in jobs. For myself, and all of us included, if you look at my 401K, well, it's gone down a lot. If you are a practice owner, you just can't afford to retire at this point. There is a very obvious relationship. Extending it further, you wonder what the effect is going to be on the number of applicants for veterinary education.

They know they have gone through this incredibly expensive education. Now they can't get a job? It's a disastrous situation, one that we have to pay attention to.

Dr. Wilson mentioned the 6.8 percent students have to pay on loans. I don't understand why that rate is so high. It used to be 4.2 percent to 4.3 percent. It's a ruinous rate of interest. It would help enormously if we could find ways to lower it. A student with Stafford loan is not allowed to declare bankruptcy. I don't understand what their options are. We never thought we would have to think about this in the past. But it is real.

There are other issues related to veterinarians in the food-animal sector. We have 481 counties across the country with more than 5,000 head of livestock and no resident veterinarian.

The reason there is no veterinary coverage is that people can't make a living there. I worry about the long-term impact of this and the loan-repayment programs. They spend five years in an underserved area, then go elsewhere. I am concerned about that.

Basically what is happening in terms of food-animal practice is that, with consolidation and fewer farms, incomes are lower for veterinarians. Therefore, many practitioners are shifting from purely food-animal to mixed-animal practice to maintain a livelihood in a rural setting.

Verdon: As more and more women enter the profession, what other challenges await them?

Shaughnessey: I am a full-time practitioner. I perform relief veterinary services in the Washington, D.C., area. I have worked in 30 to 40 different practices.

As you know, in the last 40 years the gender dynamics of veterinary medicine have completely changed. In the 1960s, we had 108 females graduating from veterinary schools and 2,000 men. Interestingly, during that decade about 75 percent of the females ended up as practice owners, about the same percentage as men.

In the 1980s, doors opened to women, and they stormed through. Veterinary medicine started becoming predominantly female. Veterinary Economics came out with a survey about ownership from 2000 to 2007. In that period we had about 6,800 women graduating compared to 2,000 men. Only 7 percent of those female graduates became practice owners.

One of the quickest ways to personal economic freedom is to become a practice owner. But women have a different set of challenges in their professional lives. One interesting set of data had to do with the amount of time women spend out of the work force. As of 2002, women were out of the professional work force an average 14.7 years, while men were out only 1.6 years. As you can see, we are not in the work force quite as long, but it is even more important in many ways for us to become economically independent.

By age 44, 81 percent of women in the United States will have a child. Fifty percent will be divorced. Of those 50 percent, five out of six will end up with those children and the full economic responsibility for raising them.

I think it is very important for women going through veterinary school and entering the profession as an associate to think beyond those first five years. Think in 30-year terms. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to stay employed full time even and when we have children. The statistics show we outlive men. We live to an average age of 85, while men live to 75. Of senior citizens living in poverty, three out of four are women, and 75 percent of those women were not in poverty when their husbands were alive. That should speak volumes.


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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