Letter to dvm360: An obvious part of the student debt solution? Fewer graduates


Letter to dvm360: An obvious part of the student debt solution? Fewer graduates

Despite a shrinking number of applicants per veterinary school position, class sizes have increased and new schools are opening. It’s time to stop.
Jun 28, 2016

I have hosted fourth-year veterinary students in my practice for over 15 years. This has allowed me to understand much of what is happening in the pre-graduation minds of the future of our profession. When I became aware of mounting student debt, I was shocked. And, the shock has intensified almost yearly over the past 10 years as the debt load reported to me has increased.

Running parallel with that trend was an increase in veterinary students who stated that they did not care if they ever made a lot of money in veterinary medicine as long as they were happy with their jobs, i.e., they are not expecting their salaries to bode well against their student debt.

The report in the May 2016 issue of dvm360 (“Come together, right now, over debt”) added a new set of troubling data. The current ratio of applicants to available positions in veterinary schools is 2.1:1. The ratio was 7:1 for my 1972 Texas A&M class.

Finally, salaries of new graduates have been stagnant for several years and “there is concern that the ratio of student debt to starting salaries is unsustainable.”

When you put all of this together, it should not be surprising that interest in becoming a veterinarian is decreasing, as evidenced by the 2.1:1 ratio. And yet what has happened over the past decade? We have increased class size at several veterinary schools, and three new veterinary schools have opened.

I do not have an MBA, but practice owners understand supply and demand. We know that if there are six applicants for a position in a practice, we are not going to have to pay as much as if there were a shortage of applicants. We also know that if an employed veterinarian does not work out, there are others readily available. Thus, to expect practice owners to voluntarily solve the student debt problem by paying higher salaries is unrealistic.

I do not claim to have all of the answers to this dilemma, but I know that increasing the number of graduates is counterproductive to the future of our profession. Nowhere in the recommendations is reducing the number of graduates listed. In fact, the “educators” group is recommending shortening the curriculum, resulting in another increase in new graduates for a few years.

The companion article on the impact of another recession adds urgency to finding a solution. Although we don’t know if another recession is near, the twofold impact of a recession (increased student debt and lowered practice profits) will be even more detrimental to our profession.

It’s time to get serious about solving this problem, and I applaud the summit organizers for taking this step. As they make further recommendations, they should closely consider recommending a reduction in the number of new graduates. To me, it is the elephant in the room.

Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP (feline)
Owner, Alamo Feline Health Center
San Antonio, Texas

Veterinary school debt

After reading this article and sounding off for years to UF veterinary school deans, it seems that this problem is finally being addressed. One of the solutions being proposed is to shorter the time required to get a degree. I do not see how this will solve the overall problem. It will produce MORE veterinarians, further holding salaries down. It is simple math. In addition, it will devalue the veterinary degree in the eyes of the public. We will be nothing more than specialized bachelors degrees. Do we really think this is going to attract the best and the brightest?

We know schools are like governments and they will rationalize that the debt has decreased so tuition can be raised. I promise you that within a short period of time, the cost of an accelerated program (5-6 years) will be very similar to the current (7-8 years) program. We all know it.

I agree with Gary. As a dean asked me what my solution to my concern was, I responded, "Shut down the schools for 3 years". Not practical but neither was his response which was that his job is to educate veterinarians and that is what he intends to do.