It's not that different from what established practitioners want. We probed to learn what type of practice future veterinarians want to join, what they see as their greatest strengths, weaknesses, and fears.
OF THE ALMOST 300 RESPONDENTS TO THE 2005 VETERINARY Economics Student Study, 85 percent plan to go into practice, be it small animal, mixed animal, large animal, food animal, or exotics. The remaining respondents say they're considering posts in the military, other government branches, research, and so on.
Once in practice, they're likely to stay there. Among respondents to "The State of the Veterinary Profession," a study conducted by DVM Newsmagazine in 2006, 72 percent intend to stay in private practice for their entire career. Only 6 percent can say for certain they don't want to stay in private practice, while the remainder aren't decided.
Yet it's important to remember that many students still haven't decided on their calling. As Christine Towey, a second-year student at Washington State University, says, "There are so many different options, why close myself off?" Towey, who recently attended the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE), a one-week program aimed at developing leadership within the profession, leans toward small animal practice, but she's also interested in large animal practice and agriculture, working at a pet food company, or a government post.
Another VLE participant, Jennifer Bennett, a third-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, leans toward mixed animal practice, but she's also interested in public health and academia. Yet another, Jacqueline Parr, a student at the University of Guelph, leans toward nutrition research, but she's only finished her first year, she says, so that may change. "Whatever I do, I need to be passionate about it," she says.
Some good news: These students who say they're keeping their options open leave the possibility of practice ownership on the table for discussion. "If I do go into small animal, I definitely want an ownership interest," Towey says. In fact, an informal sample of 28 students in 2006 shows that 52 percent want to own someday.
Not surprisingly, given this interest in ownership, 85 percent of the students sampled say they'd like to work at a privately owned practice. (See Figure 1 for more about what students want in practice.) And practicing veterinarians share this preference toward independence; when asked in the DVM Newsmagazine study how they felt about corporate ownership, 60 percent of respondents say they're somewhat or strongly opposed. Another 28 percent of respondents say they're neutral.
Figure 1 Students' ideal practice
Going into specialty medicine is another option for to-be veterinarians, and 30 percent of the students we talked to plan to become boarded specialists. Their top choices: behavior, laboratory animal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, and surgery.
Forty-three percent of respondents to the DVM Newsmagazine study say their greatest professional life concern is a lack of balance between their career and personal lives. (See Figure 2.)
Another concern: debt. "I'm worried about paying off my student loans," Bennett says. And she has good reason—64 percent of the students responding to the 2005 Veterinary Economics Student Study anticipate carrying more than $75,000 in debt when they graduate from veterinary school. Even with this heavy debt load, 72 percent of these students think they'll make enough money after graduation to live comfortably and pay off their loans.
Figure 2 Balance weighs on DVMs' minds
When it comes to some of the work they'll perform in practice, the students we sampled informally express more confidence. Most feel somewhat (71 percent) or very (11 percent) comfortable applying their medical knowledge in practice. And 86 percent say they're comfortable with client communication in general.
Still, other areas of practice pose some potential challenges. For example, 36 percent of respondents say they feel somewhat uncomfortable delivering bad news. Thirty-nine percent feel somewhat uncomfortable developing a budget, and 63 percent feel somewhat uncomfortable tracking production.
Despite the challenges new graduates face, they're connected by an important thread—their dedication to the profession. Most students picked this career because of their desire to work with and care for animals or because of their passion for science and medicine. And they're willing to make sacrifices to reach their goals. They're dedicated to the profession, no matter which area they go into. "I want to be the best I can be," says Towey. "And I'll work as hard as I can to make sure that happens."