Letter to dvm360: One readers thoughts on student debt and subsidized veterinary care


Veterinarian urges colleagues to consider inflation in student debt discussions, adjust terminology for services provided by humane nonprofit facilities.

I am writing to bring up two disparate points that I have been thinking about for some time.

The first is regarding the high cost of veterinary education. I graduated in 1986 with $64,000 of debt. Many of my classmates had a much higher debt load; quite a few had $100,000 or more.

Now, before you think, “See how the cost has risen!” you should adjust for inflation. My $64,000 is the equivalent of $153,000 in 2014 dollars. My first salary of $24,000 is the equivalent of $57,600 in 2014 dollars (somewhat less than salaries being offered today). For this I often worked 60 hours a week and was on call every other night, weekend and holiday.

When my boss went on vacation for 10 days, I worked and was on call by myself the entire time he was gone. When I graduated, I lived with my parents for two years because I could not afford to pay my loan payments and rent an apartment. I did not buy a car or a house or go on a vacation for many years.

This does not make the problems and concerns of today's graduates any easier, but veterinary medicine is not a lucrative profession. I for one am tired of hearing about the high debt load of today's graduates.

In conclusion: 1) The cost of veterinary medicine has always been high-don't forget to adjust for inflation. 2) No one is being forced to go to veterinary school. Do your homework. If you want to make a lot of money, don't become a veterinarian. 3) If people realize this they will not go to veterinary school and the concerns of oversupply will end.

My second point is in regard to the term “low-cost” veterinary medicine. I work at a humane society one day a week. Believe me, the humane society pays the same for Telazol, buprenorphine, blood pressure cuffs and anesthesia machines as any private hospital. I myself am well paid. The reason we are able to charge clients less is due to the generous donations of the public as well as fundraising and grants. This is subsidized veterinary medicine and welfare for pets. I point this out to any humane society client who complains about the high cost of care their private veterinary clinic provides.

My humane society does not require proof of need-a very large bone of contention between the shelter supervisor and me. Although we occasionally have a client who drives up in an expensive car with her expensive handbag and perfectly coiffed hair and brings her purebred pet store dog for “low-cost” care, the majority of pets I see have never had any veterinary care and would not receive any care were it not for our shelter.

I know of some low-priced private clinics with spay and neuter prices equivalent to our shelter. I honestly do not know how they manage to do this, but I think that the number of clinics that can perform high-volume surgeries and provide excellent service is very small. I believe that we need to use the term “subsidized veterinary medical care” for any nonprofit organization that raises money through donations, fundraisers or grants. I believe that this will help clients understand that private clinics are not gouging them.

Using subsidized veterinary care should be like using food bank services-it's great to have it available if you are truly in need, but you shouldn't take advantage of it if you are not.

Beth Ferry, VMD

Ligonier, Pennsylvania

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