DVMs, veterinary student converge at NAVC to examine ways to ease debt


Orlando - Veterinarians and students came together to consider ways to ease staggering veterinary student indebtedness.

ORLANDO — Veterinarians and students came together to consider ways to ease staggering veterinary student indebtedness.

More than 250 veterinarians and students attended the second "Elephant in the Room" meeting at the North American Veterinary Confernce. Sponsored by VetPartners, an association of veterinary practice consultants, multiple presentations offered a glimpse at the issues facing veterinary students — from escalating costs of education to career options in veterinary medicine. More than 130 students particpated in the workshop, which included breakout sessions to identify key trends and solutions to some of the problems faced by graduates.

"The students, for the first time, feel like they have some power over their own future," says Dr. James F. Wilson, of Priority Veterinary Consultants and architect of the original paper and last year's NAVC meeting. "And these same students are being asked to participate in the changes that are needed for our entire profession."

Dr. David Bristol

Here are some key messages presented. Next month, we will look at some of the outcomes and recommendations.

Salary expectations by gender

Over time, men have higher salary expectations than women.

And the differences are notable when future ownership is factored into the equation, says Dr. David Bristol, senior assistant dean and director of academic affairs at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

While men and women have similar starting salary expectations initially, the demand curve changes after the first year of employment. Simply: Men want more.

Bristol started surveying first-year veterinary students in 2000 and compiled the data he has gathered through 2008. "If they make what they expect to make over their careers, there is a $398,384 (gender-based) difference," Bristol says.

Part of the problem is that, while starting salaries are well publicized, salaries for veterinarians with 10 years' experience aren't. If they were, it is more likely men and women would earn more equal salaries.

"What we need to try to do with students is take away some of that ambiguity," he says.

According to survey results, a higher percentage of men expect to enter into a practice-owner situation.

"The interesting thing is that when we look at salary expectations vs. ownership expectations, women who don't expect to own expect to earn less than those who do and men who don't expect to own expect to earn less as well," Bristol says. "So, there is a correlation between ownership and salary expectations."

Many factors need to be taken into account when looking at the gender gap, but getting the information out to students is key.

"If they are negotiating from ignorance, they have a weaker negotiating position," he says.


Assessing students' business acumen

Veterinary students are pulling a C-minus average in business, according to a national survey.

The survey results, according to organizer Dani McVety (Class of 2009) from the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine, underscore the need for better business education for veterinary students.

"I think (the results represent) where we are when it comes to running a business or especially managing our student debt. That's not to say we can't learn, though. It simply means we have to put some extra effort into it."

McVety led the online survey with the guidance of adviser Dr. Colin Burrows and received 994 responses from students at nearly all the veterinary schools in the United States. The goal simply was to evaluate their business knowledge. "I know that if I am going to be successful in life, I am going to have to know some basic business concepts," McVety says. "That's why I thought this would be an interesting project. I also think that business should be the fun part of practice, to have a clear idea of where your hard work is going."

Here are some of the survey's questions, answers and results:

1. (True or false) A veterinary practice's gross income is the amount of money made after subtracting various expenses.

Correct: 78.2 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 21.8 percent

Correct answer: False

2. Which of the following is not an accurate statement about a balance sheet?

  • A balance sheet shows that assets = liabilities + owner's equity
  • The balance sheet shows the value of a company's assets on a specific date.
  • The balance sheet displays where money originated and how it was spent.

Correct: 39.2 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 60.8 percent

Correct answer: The balance sheet displays where money originated and how it was spent.

3. (True or false) As a licensed veterinarian, you are invited to fly across the country to interview for a position as a new associate. You purchase a plane ticket and pay for a hotel room and a few meals. These expenses are deductible on your tax return.

Correct: 53.4 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 46.6 percent

Correct answer: True

4. (True or false) Instead of cash, a client pays her bill with rare, valuable stamps from her prized stamp collection. The market value of the stamps is included in income.

Correct: 48.4 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 51.6 percent

Correct answer: True

5. Your last year's income was $100,000 and places you in the 30 percent tax bracket (wow!). Your accountant told you that you have $20,000 in deductions (disregarding any limitations on deductions). What is the proper equation for calculating how much tax you owe?

Correct: 48.6 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 51.4 percent

Correct Answer: ($120,000 - $20,000) x 30% = $30,000

6. The acronym IRA stands for:

Correct: 76.9 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 23.1 percent

Answer: Individual Retirement Account

7. Studies show that the single most important factor in preventing negligence claims is:

Correct: 75 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 25 percent

Answer: A good doctor/client relationship.

8. (True or false) A doctor working under a professional corporation cannot be held personally liable to his or her clients or patients.

Correct: 82.6 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 17.4 percent

Correct answer: False

10. (True or false) Student-loan interest is not deductible.

Correct: 60.3 percent of respondents

Incorrect: 39.7 percent

Correct answer: True.

Nearly half the veterinary students taking the poll answered seven out of 10 questions correctly. Better poll scores were associated with age and graduation year.

In addition, prior business education and Veterinary Business Management Association membership positively influenced scores, McVety says.


Life-balance challenges for women

Why are more women becoming veterinarians, yet fewer women are practice owners?

It's a subject of critical importance to the profession, explains Dr. Micaela Shaughnessy.

"What is not addressed is what's happening behind the scenes in a woman's life," Shaughnessy says.

While men and women generally start out in their veterinary careers with the same skills, abilities and desires for practice ownership, something changes along the way.

"Many women get married, and everything is still positive toward becoming a practice owner. Where this level playing field comes to a crashing halt is at the arrival of children," she says.

"Eighty percent of child care is still performed by females, even if a woman is working full time. Additionally, a woman is still performing 75 percent of housework, even if she is working full time. We go home from one full-time job in our practices to another full-time job at home," Shaughnessy says.

It's not a woman's ability (to own a practice) that changes, but her cap-ability.

Women veterinarians who want to own a practice have plenty of help and resources, but they need to plan children around their lives instead of their lives around their children, she adds. That way, "there is a much higher chance of having the dream fulfilled."


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