Elena Lugo: The future of veterinary medicine
Expected graduation year: 2017
Expected student debt: $110,000 to $130,000
Lugo is from Fontana, Calif., and is thrilled to be starting her freshman year of veterinary school this year at the University
of Missouri. She has a strong interest in beef and dairy production animal medicine, but recently she has also begun to develop
an interest in small animal emergency practice. In interviewing Lugo, I was reminded of the excitement and anticipation that
we all experience before starting that important chapter of our lives.
Lugo is going into veterinary school as prepared as she can be, including having a rough financial plan. Since starting the
application process and subsequently being admitted to veterinary school, she has been working hard at her job and saving
up as much as she can. Her short-term goal is to have enough savings to cover rent and car payments for the first year. She
is also considering taking on a part-time job during that first year, which would help establish residency status for in-state
tuition starting her sophomore year. An in-state status change amounts to about $20,000 per year in tuition savings.
Trying not to squelch Lugo's enthusiasm too much, I hit her with some tough questions about her financial future and the implications her decisions will have on her
life as a newly minted veterinarian. She believes that veterinary school tuition in general is too high to be accessible to
middle-income families without taking on the responsibility of large loan payments. Lugo is aware that she will face debt
challenges after graduation. But as most of us can relate to, that factor is not enough to stop her from pursuing her education.
"I have the passion to pursue my dream career," she says. "I think that if I am smart early on about managing finances, I
can make this work for me."
I asked Lugo how prepared she was to take on debt to pay for school and all the considerations that go along with that. She
says she would not have been prepared to develop a strategy of saving and budgeting if someone had not confronted her with
the issue head-on. She is referring to the day that a pushy veterinarian (who may or may not be the author of this article)
handed her a pile of white papers on the financial status of the veterinary profession. I was excited to learn of her admission
to veterinary school, but I also felt compelled to help her understand the kind of burden she was about to take on.
When I asked her about her projected salary upon graduation, I wasn't surprised at the answer. Again, like so many of us,
that salary figure has not been a focus for her while she's been getting ready to start veterinary school. This phenomenon
should raise some concern among our profession as a whole, as it may be fueling some of the debt-to-salary disparity that
seems to be compounding these days.
Lugo clarifies, "I am not money-hungry. I have not put tremendous thought into what my starting salary is or should be. I
am preoccupied with determining my species preference and career path much more so than with my salary at the end of school."
When I twisted her arm to give me an on-the-spot guess as to what her starting salary might be, she projected a range between
$50,000 and $80,000 per year.
Lugo and other incoming veterinary students are the future of our profession. It is entirely up to those of us currently working
in veterinary medicine to make sure that these energetic new minds have some basic understanding of what lies ahead. We have
a tremendous responsibility to warmly welcome the best and brightest into our professional family and also to make sure they
have a place to go after graduation day. Some countries outside the U.S. are so overpopulated with veterinarians that a veterinary
degree is not considered a means of earning a livable wage. We all must do our part to make sure that does not become the
Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California.