Balancing Financial Realities with Value of Profession

The financial realities of being a veterinarian should also be weighed with the overall value of the profession, according to Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Many veterinarians who are just starting out may find it a challenge to pay off their high educational debt. For example, the average debt reported by Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine 2014 graduates was $170,380, a figure that may be hard to offset with an average reported salary of $64,678.

“The downturn of the economy impacted veterinary medicine and what graduates could earn in their first year,” said Roger Fingland, DVM, executive associate dean for K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Veterinary Health Center. “It is important to educate people who want to be veterinarians about the financial realities. But, I think the value of being a veterinarian has to always be in the discussion.”

Veterinarians not only treat pets and livestock, but also help with zoonotic disease maintenance. The interaction between animals and humans secures the continuous demand for the profession, and the fewer veterinarians we have, the larger potential for catastrophic disease, according to Michael Dicks, Ph.D., director of the economics division for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The objective of the economics division is to find ways to enhance the lifelong value of a veterinary degree, Dr. Dicks said. Understanding the market for veterinary services and how individual veterinary practices make money are important components that add value.

The biggest area of demand in veterinary medicine is working with companion animals, which accounts for about six out of 10 practicing veterinarians, according to Dicks. Food animal veterinarians account for one out of 10. Other veterinarians might choose a mixed animal practice, work in a zoo or enter the education field or other industry.

Scholarship opportunities are available, particularly for those students who want to work in rural areas and seek mixed animal practice or large animal practice. Rural scholarship recipients at K-State, for example, receive $25,000 a year if they intend to practice in a Kansas county that is declared rural.

Dr. Fingland, who teaches veterinary business courses, said on the first day of orientation at K-State, he presents new students and their parents with numbers showing what the education will cost for the next four years of veterinary school to make them aware.

“There is no question that there is a financial problem at work, and I worry about it like other people in my position worry about it,” Fingland said. “But, there is value in doing what is your calling. I understand as a veterinarian that I’m not going to make as much money as someone in another profession. I don’t want to be in that other profession, so what difference does it make if that person makes more money than I do?

“We can’t tell young people who aspire to be veterinarians, ‘You shouldn’t do this, because you won’t make as much money as you could doing something else,’” he said. “Is that what we’re going to tell people who want to teach? Imagine if somebody would have turned away the wonderful teachers that we had in grade school, high school and college. That would have been very unfortunate.”

Fingland said preparing students to be business-minded veterinarians involves work in and out of the classroom. In addition to one required business and finance course, veterinary students at K-State are allowed to take elective business courses and join organizations such as the Veterinary Business Management Association. They also learn about planning and budgeting through K-State’s Powercat Financial Counseling, available as a free resource for all students.

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