Young veterinarians struggle with massive debt

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As the number of pets in the United States declines and breeders produce fewer and fewer horses, recent graduates of veterinary school are struggling to resolve crushing debt with decreasing job opportunities. 

A report by the New York Times profiles 30-year-old Hayley Schafer, whose lifelong dream of a veterinary degree has cost her $312,000 in student loans in an industry where the expected starting salary has sunk 13 percent in the last decade to $45,575 per year–if new vets can find jobs at all.

While the numbers of dogs and cats have suffered significant declines in the last few years (as has the amount pet owners are willing to spend on their care), equine statistics are likely down even more. Dr. Stuart Brown of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute estimates that the horse population is down about 30 percent from 2008, resulting in fewer job opportunities for veterinarians.

“Traditionally we have hired five to seven new grads to our internship program,” he said. “Lately, it’s one or two.”

» Read more at New York Times
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  • no more bute

    Come and work at a California racetrack, out of debt in no time at all.

    • BarneyDoor

      New clenbuterol rules may have slowed the income stream.  Otherwise, contact: Equine Medical Group, Cypress, CA

      • Jerry

        When Hollywood Park closes, some CA vets are going to seek Bankruptcy Protection as they customers and account receivables will be uncollectable and their racetrack business will be significantly reduced!

        Clenbuterol might not be the answer!!!!!!!!!!

  • no more bute

    Come and work at a California racetrack, out of debt in no time at all.

  • Jeffrey

    $300K in student loans? Good grief.

    What a gamble.

  • Jeffrey

    $300K in student loans? Good grief.

    What a gamble.

  • Concerned Observer

    You could write this story about so many degrees. The student (and parents?) seem to have no realistic understanding of the need for or the earning power of the degree they are buying.

    How about $80,000 for a degree in fifteenth century french literature and zero prospects for employment?

    How about colleges churning out folks with degrees in radio communications and major debt….but local radio jobs shrink every day as taped programing takes over.

    Meanwhile we have too few math teachers.

    • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

      Have there ever been jobs for fifteenth century french literature majors aside from academia?

    • nu-fan

      And a study just came out that those with degrees in the arts have the highest student default rates.  So, why are taxpayers supporting public universities that continue providing so many programs that have so little opportunity for employment?  My thinking is that private universities should pick up those programs for those who have idle money laying around to pay for them.  One of my high school friends, who received a degree in art history, has never used that degree for his career.  (After all, how many jobs are out there for art historians?)  When I asked him why he majored in art history, he answered:  “It was the easiest major I could find.”  I wonder how CA taxpayers would respond to that statement?

      • Concerned Observer

        I agree about the wide range of meaningless subjects being taught and subsidized at our pubic  universities. Just watch the evening news when they bring on university professors-experts- in the most off the wall and irrelevant subjects.
        Why should the U of Va have a full professor of Izbechistan culture?(made up example)

  • Concerned Observer

    You could write this story about so many degrees. The student (and parents?) seem to have no realistic understanding of the need for or the earning power of the degree they are buying.

    How about $80,000 for a degree in fifteenth century french literature and zero prospects for employment?

    How about colleges churning out folks with degrees in radio communications and major debt….but local radio jobs shrink every day as taped programing takes over.

    Meanwhile we have too few math teachers.

  • BarneyDoor

    New clenbuterol rules may have slowed the income stream.  Otherwise, contact: Equine Medical Group, Cypress, CA

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    As someone who is flush in this problem with still about 200K in loans I will be paying off till I die (then have the loan companies probably keep me cryogenically preserved so they can keep collecting the rest) it is a problem that will cause a lot of repurcussions in the short term at least.  I think in the next 20 years some of it will even out, but that does nothing for the piss poor planning that the AVMA has done in this regard.  They would be wise not to just rubber stamp these new schools thinking the need is there.   While it will definitely affect small animal vets, as was described in the article, the bigger concern is the equine veterinarian.  With the economy being as bad as it is for a lot of people, the money is not there to treat the back yard horse like before.  Just as in the small animal realm where owners are skipping routine vet exams and yearly check ups…so also will be the horse owner that can’t afford it.  This will only lead to more expensive problems that these animals will begin to suffer from that may have been able to be prevented with yearly care.  It will be a scary next 5-10 years for the veterinary profession indeed.

    • nu-fan

      And, yet, when I sit in my vet’s office, people keep streaming in with their loved pets and are willing to cough up a lot of money for their care–me, included.  Perhaps, vets looking to earn a decent income need to look at opening up their practices in more affluent suburban areas. They have more people with enough money to pay for vet care and for pet care insurance.  I’ve also lived in a rural and lower income area for a few long years and that vet had a totally different type of practice–with no lines waiting to see him.  Keep in mind that I am speaking about small animal vet care.  Don’t know that much about large animal veterinary practices.  

  • Sandra Warren

    Honestly, I think the $45k figure is overstated for new hires (in 1993, I was told by several people that it was under $22k; I doubt it’s doubled by now), but the real money comes in private practice.  That does require the investment of a lot of equipment, but there’s no question in my mind that at least small animal veterinary care has ballooned in cost in the last five years, and that has to mean a lot more income for them. My small animal vet now refuses to do many routine things without expensive checks:  blood pressure checks for $25 before vaccinations, for $&#*$! sake.   My large animal vet has remained very reasonable, God bless her.  But when she retires, we will face a large animal crisis in my area, because she is the only large animal vet that can be counted on to attend an emergency during off hours.  I have never once been able to get the other four large animal vets in my area out on an emergency call.  It’s not like I’ve been a bad client; they won’t let me BE a client!  Now when my regular vet is not available, I immediately pile the horse in the trailer and drive an hour to a clinic.  I don’t even bother with any additional phone calls anymore.  In my opinion, any ambulatory-practice large animal vet that wants to earn more can simply make himself available for emergency calls and longer hours every day.  That’s what I do….it’s called overtime.

  • Tomasz Pacas

    This could apply to most jobs in the industry.  I know a number of young people working low wage jobs both on farms and at the track that have student loans in the six figures.  At the end of the day you have to love horses/ animals to work the hours and try to scrape out a living on the pay.  As competitive as vet school admissions are, most vets could have easily chosen to attend an upper tier medical school over vet school; they chose there love of animals over a big income.

  • Francis Bush

    Based on the prices that the vets charged in treating my thoroughbreds I have little sympathy for the troubled ones. I graduated with 4 degrees. One B.S, M.S., Ph.D and D.M.D. and did not owe one penny. My parents did not contribute one cent. I worked several jobs during the first degree, part-time during the second degree, part-time during the third degree. There was a lapse of 11 years between the Ph.D and the fourth degree D.M.D. when I taught school. I had saved enough money to pay for the last one.  Borrowing money leads to indebtness that often traps a person to where they can’t escape. These individuals needed sound advice and should have gotten it prior to making bad choices with their lives.

    • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

      While I can respect your opinion on this…I cannot agree with it.  Basically what you are saying by your statement is that these vet students should basically save up the 300k or so it will cost to go to school before they apply?  If you don’t mind me asking, what was the total sum of your tuition for each degree, and what years did you obtain them in.  There may be a large generational gap here between then and now…as there was for vets in the past when the average debt from school was only in the 50-100k region.  By saying that vet school should only be for those who are independently wealthy to pursue, well…that would not lead to many of the great vets we have out there today.  I’m sorry you feel gouged in some way by your vet…but that is no reason to paint the profession of dedicated individuals that way…whether they work in small or large animal.

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