Student debt is an increasingly critical issue for the entire veterinary profession, and how to reduce that debt and improve the overall economic picture for young veterinarians was the focus of a summit called "FIX THE DEBT…Our Future, Our Responsibility" held at Michigan State University last week. Summit attendees put forth a number of recommendations, including:
- Streamlining curricula
- Increasing scholarship opportunities
- Boosting starting salaries
- Lobbying federal lawmakers for legislation for lower interest rates on student loans
- Creating a national plan for reducing the debt-to-income ratio
The summit, organized jointly by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, brought together approximately 180 individuals from across the veterinary spectrum. The collective goal over the three-day summit was to agree on specific strategies to address the many facets of this complex challenge, with the goal of reducing the debt-to-income ratio. The debt-to-income ratio is an indicator of the financial health of the veterinarian entering the profession, and it currently stands at about 2:1, representing a level of educational debt approximately twice the level of starting income.
Dr. John Baker, dean of the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, warned that the ratio of student debt to graduate starting salary is the biggest challenge facing veterinary medicine, and is increasing to a level where it may impact the number and quality of students applying for a veterinary medical education. He added that the single biggest factor behind the issue is the decrease in public funding for higher education.
"This summit sends a message that we are committed to more than just acknowledging the debt problem," he said. "We are committed to implementing real solutions to help ease the burden on our students and veterinarians."
AVMA President Dr. Joe Kinnarney emphasized the need to recognize that educational debt is more than just a financial issue.
"Finances can be a great source of stress for students and veterinarians," he said. "Between paying off college debt, keeping up-to-date on daily expenses and trying to somehow set money aside for future retirement, the competing demands can sometimes seem impossible to manage and have a negative impact on their wellness."
Dr. Andrew Maccabe, AAVMC executive director, stated that finding viable solutions to financial issues related to student debt and the cost of veterinary medical education is among the highest priorities for the profession.
"This summit could be a defining moment for veterinary medicine in the United States," he said. "Our students should be encouraged to dream big. It's not fair for them to be deterred from entering the veterinary profession out of fear for the substantial amount of debt they would incur."