Recognizing the realities of debt


The ball-and-chain effect reaches beyond individuals to the whole profession.

A number of years ago, when I was in a different editorial department, I got recruited to appear on the cover of Veterinary Economics. (As you may have guessed, our cover models are often our co-workers, family members, friends, friends of friends, in-laws of friends, people our friends hardly know, and so on.) Interestingly, the cover story in June 2003 was about student debt, and I played the part of the young associate, fists clenched and face drawn as I contemplate a giant ball and chain shackled to my ankle and emblazoned with the words "Debt weighing you down?"

Ha ha, I thought at the time. Such a clever idea. So fun to get dressed up and be a cover model pretending to be upset about debt. Because back then I didn't yet feel the weight of my own school loans; they were more of a hypothetical than a reality. Five-plus years later, I'm still dragging them around, and they're heavy. Were I to do that same photo shoot today, I wouldn't have to pretend to look aggrieved over my debt and its effect on my life.

And my burden is a drop in the bucket compared to that of a veterinary school graduate. For this issue's cover story, we talked to a doctor in Coos Bay, Ore. Dr. Wendy Labrousse is about my age, and she not only has school loans to pay but is also a practice owner, which involves a healthy amount of additional debt, and has two small children.

Dr. Labrousse and her husband, a police officer, have deliberately chosen to live simply so that they can service their debt and attain financial security (note to self), but it hasn't been easy. And while they're staying afloat through smart choices and discipline, Dr. Labrousse is concerned about the future of the profession. If smart, hardworking people can't anticipate a return on their educational investment, she says, they may turn elsewhere for a career—to the detriment of veterinary medicine and the pets and people who would benefit from their care.

If you're not debt-saddled yourself, you may be wondering what this all has to do with you. Now that's where it gets interesting. Private practices have a large stake in the situation—and are a key to the solution. Curious yet? Read "Student debt: Why it's your problem too" in the January 2009 issue or right here online.

Kristi Reimer, Editor

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