Employers such as Pfizer Animal Health and the United States Army do offer scholarships to help recruit candidates. There
are also state government debt forgiveness programs to encourage veterinarians to accept rural positions. But while these
programs are "great," Felsted says, she doesn't necessarily think debt forgiveness fixes the problem. "I struggle with anything
that tries to make something work financially that's not working financially on its own."
Plus, says John Volk, senior consultant at Brakke Consulting, despite the massive loans acquired by veterinary students, student
debt is not a company's problem; it's a student's problem. "I think it's the company's responsibility to offer a job with
competitive salary and benefits," Volk says. "In the broad scheme of things, the amount of debt a student carries just isn't
However, he says veterinarians are at a disadvantage compared with other health professionals. "(Take) a new DVM with $150,000
in student debt and a physician with $150,000—the physician with his starting salary is going to make a lot more money," he
says. "That's the dilemma with veterinarians. The relationship between salaries and amount of student debt is not very favorable."
(For a chart detailing the differences in student debt and starting salaries among various healthcare professions, see page
The NRC study did find that the highest salaries for veterinarians are in industry. Yet many research jobs require advanced
education. And of course, more education also means more debt. Despite the possibility of a higher salary, Richardson says
obtaining advanced education may be cost-prohibitive for some.
What's more, financial support—even when coupled with the warm and fuzzy memories of Grandpa's practice—still may not be enough
to lure veterinarians into rural practice. Richardson believes that the factors keeping veterinarians out of rural practice
are social, not professional.
As rural America shrinks and urban America grows, rural areas may not have the jobs to support veterinarians' spouses' careers
or schools to provide opportunities for their children. And in the rural deserts of veterinary care where there may not be
enough business to earn a living wage Felsted says she can understand why people aren't filling those jobs. "I think some
of it is money," she says. "And I think some of it is that not everybody wants to live in a rural community."
To Felsted, the problem isn't hard to identify and the result is not unique to veterinarians. "If the salary of any job doesn't
pay what somebody wants to earn and live the way they want to live, that's very hard to get past," she says.
While the veterinary profession works to manage the long-term problems of educational cost and professional maldistribution,
veterinarians may have to look inward to navigate the waves caused by the massive school of "goldfish."
Felsted says practicing veterinarians need to do everything they can to generate success for themselves and others. This involves
creating a healthy practice that pays good salaries and attracts high-quality candidates.
Volk also sees opportunities to grow veterinary practice to create greater demand and earning opportunities. "The veterinary
profession as a whole does not operate as profitably as it could," he says. "It's going to take improved management, and I
think that's something the schools can work on."
Felsted notes that in the last 10 years there has been an increase in communication, business and life skills classes in veterinary
schools. "As [better business practices] become adopted, they will increase salaries and demands for more veterinarians,"
New federal centers for bioscience and research on the campuses of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., and Texas A&M
in College Station, Texas, should also create highly visible opportunities for qualified candidates. "Our students have a
much greater interest in infectious disease research, food safety and public health because we have those conversations going
on around us all the time," Richardson says of the anticipation surrounding the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility planned
for Manhattan (For more on the facility in Kan., see page 35).
But he doesn't want students at the forefront of their careers to make decisions solely based on economics. "There's no better
time than in the university experience to find where your passions lie," he says. "Students need to sample as many career
pathways as possible, find the opportunities that are really rewarding. "
Creating these opportunities and making them appealing to the proverbial pool of goldfish just may—with more economic security
and the right exposure—allow the profession to catch more bass.