Tony Johnson, DVM, DACVECC, also has experience with student debt—both firsthand with his own loans and also through the veterinary
students he interacts with on a daily basis. As an assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at Purdue University
College of Veterinary Medicine, Johnson sees the struggle his students face in terms of being financially bound to an educational
loan. "For some of these students it's crippling," he says. "It's unfortunate that despite efforts by the colleges to explain
the implications of the costs of going to veterinary school, many students don't seem to really understand the seriousness
of the amount of debt they likely will incur and how they will service it—the actual nuts and bolts of what they're going
to be paying out over time."
Benson is 17 years into paying down his student debt and is now able to purchase a practice.
Johnson recognizes that some students don't even know their total loan amount after they've been approved, not to mention
how much they're going to have to pay each month and how much interest they'll contribute to the overall capital over time.
"I think this is certainly an area that schools could look more closely at and evaluate whether they are doing enough," he
says. "But the schools face a real challenge due to the fact that the curriculum is so full of content that they are required
to teach. They can't just 'add more', so there's no easy answer. "
Johnson also works with the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and says that the organization is working on getting the
word out to students about the burden of educational loans. "VIN offers debt repayment calculators and other financial planning
tools on its website for students, but even that might not be enough," he says.
Although resources are available online for students through VIN and the AVMA, as well as the Association of American Veterinary
Medical Colleges (AAVMC), it's less common to find counseling or resources at the colleges themselves—and particularly at
the pre-veterinary education level, which is where it's needed most, in Benson's opinion. "Word isn't getting out to pre-vet
students about debt," he says. "Many students I talk to or write letters of recommendation for don't know what's ahead."
Benson knows firsthand that one of the biggest pitfalls of educational loans is the lack of information students receive about
the finanacial situation they're getting themselves into. "I knew how much debt I would be graduating with, but I didn't know
what my monthly payments would be or how it would affect having a family or buying a house or practice," he says.
Benson believes that the solution to the increasing student debt dilemma is for veterinary schools and the AVMA to take a
more active role in educating pre-veterinary students about assuming student loans. He says introducing a financial management
course to the pre-veterinary curriculum would be a step in the right direction to help students plan ahead. "It's got to become
a bigger priority of the AVMA and veterinary schools," Benson says. "They need to work on this together."
Johnson also sees how bleak the current financial situation is for veterinary graduates and knows it has the potential to
only get worse—both for individuals and the profession as a whole. "If students come out of school and they're not able to
service their loans, we're going to see individuals having a lot of financial hardship," he says. "They're going to be chained
to this huge debt load. It's a serious threat not only to the financial health of the profession, but also to the overall
viability of veterinary medicine as a career. This debt issue really has far-ranging implications."
Luckily for Dr. Benson, he's finally seeing a light at the end of his debt-darkened tunnel. Seventeen years into paying back
his student loan, he and his family are in a more comfortable position—and he's now able to purchase a practice. In July,
Benson became the new owner of West Lake Animal Hospital in Taylorsville, Utah.
Although the current economic climate does leave him feeling apprehensive about the prospect of owning his own practice, there's
certainly hope that the future holds promise for his family's financial security.