When I was a child, veterinary medicine was a calling. I can't remember wanting to do anything else. Well OK, I briefly considered becoming a lawyer, but squelched that idea after a particularly terrifying junior high mock trial experience. (Public speaking did eventually become easier for me).
This summer will mark 20 years in this business (how did THAT happen??), and for the most part, it's been a great ride. However, recently I've been struggling with numerous frustrations regarding my chosen profession. And I've struggled even more with how (and more importantly IF) to recommend this career to the next generation. This has been the subject of much discussion, both with my colleagues and in my own home. Both my daughter and stepson have expressed interest in veterinary school, and I am finding it more and more difficult to be enthusiastic about that choice. And that makes me very, very sad.
Right now, you're probably asking yourself "Why would you hesitate to encourage young people to pursue their dreams?" The reasons are complex and many, so I'll try to explain in a 'nutshell'.
1. As with many careers, college costs have gone through the roof. When I graduated, student loan debt was averaging $50-100K, with average starting salaries of $30-40K. Today, that same debt can easily reach $150-250K for the same 7-8 years of undergrad/vet school. However, starting salaries for new grads are only $60-70K. How do you service that debt on that salary? I suppose it can be done, with a lot of belt tightening, but for how long? I can't imagine coming out of college with the equivalent of a mortgage weighing me down out of the gate, for 10 - 20 years. And that's before you try to buy a house, car, etc.
2. The economy has hit vets as hard as everyone else. Business/income are down across the country, and jobs are much more scarce than a few years ago. I hear stories from struggling colleagues every day. Now I know the economy will eventually recover, but no one can predict when.
3. In the meantime, how are veterinary colleges and the AVMA responding to this issue? By claiming there is a "shortage of veterinarians"! Trust me when I say there's not - everything I see out here 'in the trenches' indicates the exact opposite. And to make things worse, many universities (including my own alma mater) seem to be in a mad rush to build shiny new hospitals, and some states are considering opening NEW vet schools to handle this supposed "shortage". How are they financing this? By raising tuition even further and adding a dozen or two new slots to each new class. All well and good for them, but I feel they are not being honest with these starry-eyed vets-to-be about job prospects, debt load and salary expectations. And that borders on the unethical to me.
I could go on and on with other issues, but since my good readers' eyes are probably glassing over by now, I'll step off my soapbox. Suffice it to say I am probably not the person that the vet schools want speaking on Career Day, because I can be nothing but bluntly honest. Not what I expected to be saying halfway through my career, and it makes my heart ache.