Today's Veterinary Business

DEC 2018

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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7 December 2018/January 2019 • TODAYSVETERINARYBUSINESS.COM Viewpoints YOUR TURN Today's Veterinary Business provides a forum for readers to comment on anything in this journal and on any topic relevant to the business of veterinary medicine. We welcome letters of 600 words or less — the shorter, the better. Please email submissions to editor Ken Niedziela at kniedziela@NAVC.com. Include your name, professional degrees and credentials, workplace or city of residence, and contact information. It's a moral imperative. An eco- nomic emergency. A life or death issue. The educational loan mon- ster. The veterinary profession's debt debacle. The challenge that our profession is facing has been described over the past two de- cades in dozens of ways. "Managing Your Economic Future in Veterinary Medicine" was the title of an American Veterinary Medical Association symposium held in April 1996, just before I began my term as AVMA president. Several of the resulting themes were the need to reduce the cost of veterinary education, help students and recent graduates better man- age their debt loads, and prepare graduates to more quickly become economic assets to their practices. The average student debt of veteri- nary college graduates in 1983 was approximately $19,000, and in 1995 it was about $45,000. Another initiative began in January 2008: a series of five an- nual symposia ("Conversations for Committed Action") hosted at the North American Veterinary Con- ference and put together by Drs. Jim Wilson, Dennis McCurnin, Paul Pion and other DVM members of VetPartners. The intent was to keep the important topic of student debt in front of the profession. By 2007, student debt had increased to approximately $107,000. From 2009 to 2011, I served as project manager for the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC). Convened by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Col- leges, the consortium brought to- gether more than 400 stakeholders in veterinary education for three meetings over a year's time. One of the most important strategic goals that emerged from NAVMEC was "to promote an economically viable education system for both colleges of veterinary medicine and veteri- nary students." The average student debt had increased to approxi- mately $130,000 by 2009. The conversation has since continued and been repeated again and again, yet the student debt load has deepened further and identified solutions have not been initiated. So, we're going to try again. At the "Fix the Debt" summit hosted by Michigan State University in April 2016, when average student debt was approximately $145,000, the 180 participants were divided into groups: veterinary students and recent graduates, educators and veterinary college represen- tatives, employers of veterinarians across the breadth of the profes- sion, and government agencies and veterinary associations. The 10 recommendations that surfaced from the summit and re- quiring actions by each of the four groups were as follows: 1. Support local and national efforts to increase student scholarships. 2. Integrate professional skills and competencies through- out the curriculum. 3. Reduce the total time of the undergraduate and graduate educational programs to five or six years. 4. Improve student financial literacy. 5. Minimize borrowing costs. 6. Increase advocacy to governmental agencies that control student loans and payback opportunities. 7. Boost student awareness of non-practice professional opportunities. 8. Help practitioner employers increase workplace onboarding. 9. Promote entrepreneurship, including practice owner- ship options. 10. Emphasize preventive med- icine to students interested in clinical practice. So, where are we now? It's ob- vious that the six items highlighted in yellow "live" with educators and the veterinary colleges. At this time, there have been few reports from CVMs individually or collec- tively that demonstrate actions have being taken, especially in regard to managing tuition costs. The other four big-picture items need attention from all of us: national associations, veterinary organizations, private and public practice employers, and graduates. We need to push the envelope, but what can you and I do while we await changes in education, curriculum, government policies and college programs? Each one of us, regardless of where we are in our professional life, can make a difference today by helping fund scholarships at our alma maters and regional CVMs. According to the winter 2018 report from the Michigan State Uni- versity development office, every $1 in scholarship money that a college of veterinary medicine provides to a CVM student will replace $2.30 of that student's loan repayment. Given the average 2018 stu- dent debt load of about $190,000, every single scholarship dollar makes a difference to a student who will soon be one of our pro- fessional colleagues. Join me in making a difference today. You can be part of the student debt solution During her 1996-1997 term as AVMA president, Dr. Mary Beth Leininger made resolving student debt issues one of her six primary focuses. This commen- tary is the first in a series she plans to write about the topic. Dr. Leininger co-owned a Michigan veterinary practice for 28 years and later served on the AVMA Council on Education and worked in industry. She is a member of the Today's Veterinary Business editorial advisory board. By Mary Beth Leininger, DVM

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