Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The high cost of veterinary school, and why it matters

Eamon and Maggie cats sleeping in the same bed
Maggie and Eamon have done their part to support our local vets this year
(or I suppose I have).
Ever wondered why your average veterinarian doesn't stroll into appointments decked out in $100 shoes, rings sparkling on every finger? The messy nature of the job might have something to do with it, but according to an article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, sheer economics may play a bigger role. This article suggests that out-of-state tuition for veterinary school has risen by 35 percent during the last decade, landing at about $63,000 per year. At the same time, the average salary of a veterinarian has dipped by 13 percent, landing just above the $45,000-per-year mark.

These numbers should give pet owners pause.

We depend on our veterinarians to provide our animals with life-saving care, and we need them to have excellent educational backgrounds in order to reach that goal. In fact, I might argue that vets need to know more now than they ever did before, as we demand specialized care for our little creatures, including pacemaker placement, hip replacement and cataract surgeries. These aren't the sorts of things people can learn on the fly, and the better education a vet has, the more likely that professional will be able to handle these tasks and help a little creature to achieve robust health.

But, vets who go to school to get the education we demand might be under such huge debt loads that they'll never be able to pay that money back. They have years and years of schooling, and they're making salaries similar comparable to the salary I made as a receptionist 10 years ago. It doesn't seem fair.

Open discussions about salary make a lot of people uncomfortable, and I know I can squirm when people want to talk with me about things pertaining to dollars and cents. But, given what I know about the debt load many of my vets are taking on, I might change tactics just a little. I might look for opportunities to buy food and merchandise from vet clinics instead of pet stores, for example, so I can bring a little more money into the clinic. I might try to buy flea meds in the office instead of online. I might keep all of those wellness exams on the calendar, even when I don't really think they're needed.

These might be small steps, but I want veterinarians to stay in business. I need them.