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OF GRADUATING VETERINARIANS
Veterinarians in the USA are graduating with the highest debt levels of any profession. The average figure for those debts are around $150,000 per veterinarian.This has been an ongoing problem for many years and it seems to be getting no better. In 2015 the average annual tuition fee charged at veterinary schools in the USA was between $30-55,000 for in state applicants and $66,000 for these applying from out of state. Canadian veterinary schools are less expensive than their US counterparts but the majority of veterinarians trained in this country are still graduating with significant debt loads. The median figure for educational debt for graduating veterinarians in Western Canada in 2009 was reported as almost $52,000. If any specialist, who graduated in Canada and who went on to become a Diplomates of one of the 22 AVMA approved specialty programmes, did any of their post degree veterinary training in the USA, they may have also incurred significant additional debts besides that generated while obtaining their basic DVM degree. Having large amounts of student debt and less ability to pay it down, compared to other professionals, creates many psychological stresses for new veterinary graduates. These stresses may manifest as either physical symptoms or eventually as increased incidences of burn out and compassion fatigue. Veterinarians have the highest suicide rate of all the professions and it is four to six times that seen in the general public. Studies suggest that student debt loads may have been a factor in some of these unfortunate deaths.
Most non specialist veterinarians, who are employed as associates, earn significantly less than the owners of the clinics where they work. It takes ten years on average for newly qualified US graduates to pay off their student loans. This is why almost all of them, unlike in years past, cannot afford to buy a practice during that time frame. Veterinarians are also, in many cases, forced because of financial constraints to switch to companion animal work because it pays better and offers a better quality of life even though it may not be their preferred area of practice. Currently therefore, over 60% of all veterinarians are working exclusively in the companion animal market. This is also the area where the incomes are the highest and the area that offers the best lifestyles. As a result, a number of locations across North America have a shortage of veterinarians in certain other fields, such as Large Animal care. Specialists working with Companion Animals are also able to quickly repay any student loans, as their earning potential is far greater in this field compared to those working in general practices. Studies from the US have shown that 11.2% of veterinarians generate well over $900,000 annually for their clinics. They vast majority of those are specialists, such as veterinary radiologists or ophthalmologists. Many of them, even as newly graduated specialist associates, can take home between $250,000- 300,000+ annually, on the basis of being paid 25% of their production at corporate clinics. This income certainly provides for a comfortable lifestyle and allows for the rapid re-paying of any student loans. This fact may explain why so many graduating veterinarians are choosing to take additional training in order to work in the field of companion animal medicine at corporately run practices. As regards what they will see at those practices, 50% of their patients will be dogs, 28% will be cats and the rest will consist of an assortment of birds, fish, gerbils, guinea pigs etc.
Not every veterinary graduate can enter a specialty residency training position, even though between 30- 50% are currently doing so each year. That means a significant number of those not entering specialty training are still facing large debt levels for their first ten years in practice. It is perhaps because of this reality that the overall number of applicants for spots in veterinary schools have been falling for several years. Things have even gotten so bad at some prominent institutions in the US, that they are having trouble filling their available openings. It is thought that the spectre of large student debts and the inability to pay them off in a reasonable time frame, is becoming a major deterrent for people applying. We as a society need veterinarians to supervise the safety of our livestock herds and to ensure food safety when a disease outbreak threatens. Pet owner's need veterinarians to provide care to their animals. The Equine industry also couldn't function without them. Their work is important but the increasing debt loads for graduating veterinarians is creating a situation where there may be far too many veterinarians chasing a livelihood in the area of companion animal care and not enough willing to service the livestock industry, the farming communities, or the Government Departments that need them to supervise our food safety. This problem will also only likely get worse if the current emphasis on veterinarians entering companion animal care persists, and the costs for owners in that field reach a point that is unsustainable, despite the strong bonds that owners have for their pets.