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DVM—a valuable investment

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A class of 2013 veterinary student takes oral radiographs of a dog at the Dentistry & Oral Surgery Service of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Veterinary medicine, a noble and humanitarian profession, is grappling with a number of economic realities that will impact prospective students, DVM graduates and the educational institutions that support these highly trained health professionals.  Veterinarians typically complete four years of undergraduate work before attending four years of rigorous veterinary training.  These eight years of higher education required to prepare graduates to practice veterinary medicine are expensive and student debt has been on the rise for some time.  However, employment rates continue to be very high. 

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) recently conducted an employment survey of 2011 and 2012 U.S. DVM graduates to ascertain how many were actually employed in veterinary medicine or pursuing advanced veterinary training.  The survey showed that at least six months post-graduation, 98.4% of 2011 graduates and 97.7% of 2012 graduates were employed or educationally engaged, in the field of veterinary medicine.  Survey available here

The graduating veterinarian’s student debt coupled with modest starting salaries has been the subject of a recent New York Times article which questions the efficacy of allowing these students to pursue a veterinary degree.   

The national recession and economic downturn of the past decade has impacted all businesses and professions, creating a “perfect storm” for higher education.  In this case, veterinary schools have experienced severe budget cuts and are under pressure to increase enrollments as a means of generating more funding support for the schools to mitigate reductions.  Our students are taking on more debt in response to higher tuition and fees, a response to the sharp decline in state funding.  UC Davis veterinary student debt at graduation averages $136,894, below the national average of $151,672--due in part to the steps taken by the school to reduce fees and provide more scholarship support. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has responded to the NY Times article with the following open letter from Dr. Deborah Kochever, AAVMC President: Open Letter to the Veterinary Medical Community.

At UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we strongly support the continued education of veterinarians to meet a growing societal demand for highly sophisticated veterinary care and an increasing recognition of the critical role of veterinarians in public health, emerging infectious diseases and food safety.  At the same time we are taking a number of steps to reduce education costs and assist our veterinary students to manage their finances, reduce student debt and plan for their future economic viability.  During this past year alone we have:

Held the line on professional degree/course material fees to keep overall enrollment fees low.

Hired a dedicated student financial aid and scholarship counselor.

Continued to promote a robust scholarship program and have one of the largest endowment of any veterinary school.  We added 18 new scholarships last year and distributed a total of $1.8 million in scholarships and financial aid.

An employment rate of 98% at one year out from graduation.

Partnered with students to support many activities including the highly successful “Career Night Event,” which brings in practitioners and industry reps to meet with students. See Facebook images here.

Launched a “Pay down the Debt” campaign to raise scholarship funds.

Trained veterinarians in areas of need: public health, food animal health and emerging diseases.

Held professional DVM enrollments steady.

At our school, we are committed to provide high quality veterinary educational programs at a reasonable cost.  We also strive to attract top candidates, promote demographic diversity and provide our students life-long learning strategies to promote a professional career full of opportunities.

Michael D. Lairmore