Why all this debt babble?
Ultimately the point I'm making here is that, currently, we're not all that bad off as a profession. The worry is that if
we decide to remain complacent—to leave the problem to manage itself—we could quickly approach a situation where veterinary
medicine becomes a financially insensible career choice for many bright and able young students.
So what can you and I do about all of this? Probably not much. We have leaders at the AVMA and other organizations working
hard to ensure a bright future for our profession. What I aim to do for myself, and what I hope more veterinarians will choose
to do, is to break the debt cycle early in life. Those student loans are the first and most substantial debt burden that most
of us will sign up for. Soon after that, we will consider business loans, car payments and, very likely, a home mortgage.
But if there's a silver lining to student loans it's this—very early in life, we get to know what it means to sign on to more than $100,000 in debt. We know what it means when we decide to sign for that $300,000 home mortgage. I recently looked into purchasing a home. What an eye-opening
experience! My real estate agent and mortgage lender assessed my situation and suggested that I could afford more than I thought—that
a $400,000 home was well within my reach. I just needed to sign a few pages here and there and I'd be into my dream home in
no time. No thanks.
A look at the big picture
There's a broader picture to the debt fiasco as it relates to most of us. In terms of providing pet care as a cash business,
some may say we're at the mercy of the economy. So let's look back and consider the nearly $2.8 million in U.S. home foreclosures
that took place in 2009. I'd bet very few veterinarians owned any of these homes. So why does it matter? Why should we care
that so many "irresponsible borrowers" could no longer make ends meet and make that mortgage payment? Because they're our
I subscribe to the notion that as veterinarians, we're not the guardians of our clients' finances. And I certainly try to
distance myself from pet owners' financial decisions in practice as much as possible (Fire off the estimate and let the receptionist
handle the rest!). Yet how many times in your own exam room have you heard, "I've been out of work for a year. I can't afford
to treat Max. I'm going to have to put him down," or, "I just lost my home and moved back in with my parents. I need a cheaper
I hear those scenarios every single day, usually more than once. And I bet you do, too. For some of us in practice, the attitude
that the pet owner's problems aren't our problems and "we do what we can" is adequate. Others among us cannot turn our backs
on a patient and are willing to risk professional burnout, not to mention giving away our business to help those in need.
There are no easy answers here.
We want to better the lives of our patients and our clients. We also depend on pet owners who are willing and able to pay for our services. I view our own difficulties with
relatively manageable student debt as an indicator of a much larger-scale problem. I'm not suggesting that any drastic measures
be taken in terms of how we conduct our business. I'm just stating that we should be paying attention to these issues and
how they might affect the whole of our profession.
I've said it before and I'll say it again—all of our situations are so different that no single financial plan is right for
all of us. By all means, if you have an investment prospect that's going to earn you a rate above what you are paying on your
loans, go for it. In the current economy, if you have such an investment opportunity lined up, please also contact me directly—I'll
send a check right away.
Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. He is also an avid kitesurfer.