Are We Abandoning Our New Graduates?

Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT, VetGirl, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Since I graduated (Cornell, ’97), I have seen tremendous shifts in the field of veterinary medicine. The pros: more opportunities for women, improvements in diversity, opportunities for advanced training, and better quality of care. The cons?

Pet owners are turning to the internet as trust in our profession decreases. Student loans are at an all-time high. It is increasingly difficult to be financially successful in a challenging economy.

How can we get back on track and prevent our profession from moving in the wrong direction? One way to start: focus on the future of our profession and stop abandoning our new graduates.

I started my career with approximately $100,000 in graduate school loans, so I can identify with the burden of financial debt. However, when I graduated, I had plenty of job offers and did not feel like it was a cut-throat market with my fellow 79 classmates.

Related Article: Veterinary School: What They Don't Teach

According to a recent AVMA study, the number of students who had received job offers or advanced training positions had dropped substantially (61.5% in 2012, 74.3% in 2011, and 78.9% in 2010).1 Thankfully, the average number of job offers has stayed consistent at 1.6 for the past few years, but after 8 years of education, that number is discouraging. Here is where I feel some of the problems lie:

  • Veterinary schools are expanding class size too rapidly. Why? Funding. When state deficits cut a school’s budget, our academic institutions should not look to fill that deficit with tuition dollars. Increasing class sizes overfills a market that is already struggling with—dare I say it?—too many veterinarians.
  • Too many veterinary schools. Veterinary schools seem to be popping up as frequently as Starbucks nowadays. We do not need more schools; we need better clinical experiences in strong programs.
  • An all-female field. I’m all for women’s equality, but a woman-dominated veterinary field will have repercussions.

Related Article: Finding Your Perfect Job in Veterinary Medicine

Here is what could be done to help our profession:

1. Donate. If you loved your training, pay it forward. Donate to your alma mater.

2. Contact your delegate. I just found out I have an AVMA delegate. Contact your delegate and tell him or her how you feel—emphasize the urgency of these problems. The AVMA should be addressing this now (well, really, 5 years ago), before it spirals out of control.

3. Get real. The deficit in large animal veterinarians is not currently being filled by larger class sizes. Until it is highly incentivized—as in human medicine—to go to a remote location, that rural void is going to be hard to fill. Give people incentives (eg, free tuition), and now you’re talking.

4. Educate. Many new graduates carry over $200,000 in student debt and may not realize the seriousness (or longevity) of this debt load. My student loans were a tremendous stress to me, and while I tried to manage them with 3 part-time jobs during veterinary school, it started to become unbearable during my internship and residency. Veterinary students need financial counseling as part of their education to better prepare them for their 10- to 20-year commitment to budgeting.

5. Stick it out. If you are a new graduate, realize that you are a potential liability in many ways for the person about to hire you. You are young, trained to be opinionated, and going to need a lot of mentoring. While you may feel that the older veterinarians may not be practicing to your standard of ivory-tower care, they actually do have things to teach you! I learned this when working as a volunteer as an Iditarod sled dog veterinarian. I was humbled by how much I learned and picked up from my “old-school” colleagues. I learned to really trust their physical examination findings and gut instinct. When you don’t have all your criticalist toys with you, you need to rely on your #1 tool, the physical examination…and some of these old-school veterinarians have an exceptional touch, great bedside manner, and phenomenal examination skills. Learn from them. They invested in you, and you should invest right back in them.

Maybe these aren’t all the right steps. I’m just a Gen-X veterinarian brainstorming about what we need to do to prevent our beloved profession from slipping in the wrong direction. By focusing on the future generation of veterinarians, maybe we can turn things around.


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