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The promising career paths of Minnesota’s veterinary graduates

Last month, New York Times reporter David Segal profiled challenges that, in his view, threaten the financial and professional viability of veterinary graduates across the country.

Segal argues that over the past few years, rising tuition costs, a decline in demand for veterinarians and an influx of veterinary school graduates have combined to make successful entry into the profession a challenge.

But while Segal points out concerns that have impacted some veterinary graduates, the article doesn’t paint a complete picture.

According to Trevor Ames, D.V.M., dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the broad issues raised by Segal are always on the minds of educators, but Segal’s assessment of the current state of the profession and the prospects for new graduates don’t reflect the current reality.

“It’s problematic to take a single student experience and extrapolate from that the experience of thousands of graduates of American universities,” said Ames.  “For example, across the nation the unemployment rate for veterinary graduates is about 2 percent after a few months following graduation. In a state like ours, veterinary graduates are finding employments at rates well above the national average and they are making an impact by providing valuable care for the animals of the state.”

Ames points to the unique needs of Minnesota and surrounding states when it comes to the need for veterinary professionals to serve the strong animal agriculture industry of the region as well as our companion animals. Demand for veterinarians remains very high in a number of areas of the profession, particularly in jobs that demand advanced training for research and specialty care.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) holds a similar view.

In a response to the Times, AAVMC President Deborah Kochevar, D.V.M., Ph.D., wrote that the experience of the graduate profiled by Segal (Hayley Schafer, D.V.M., a graduate of the for-profit Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts) isn’t representative of the situation of most recent veterinary school graduates.

The Times estimated Schafer’s student loan debt at roughly $312,000, yet Kochevar points out the national average for veterinary school graduates is half that figure: $151,672.  The Times also included annual expenses in their tuition figures that would be incurred by most students seeking any degree, such as room and board, books and transportation expenses.

Furthermore, when Segal presents his argument that starting salaries of other medical professionals lag behind those of other medical professionals, he uses figures from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that include lower salaries associated with the nearly 30 percent of veterinary school graduates who seek post-degree training opportunities such as internships and residencies.

Using the same data and excluding the salaries of graduates continuing their education, the median entry-level salary for first-year practitioners is much higher: $65,404.  “Not enough, agreed,” writes Kochevar, “but better.”

At the University of Minnesota, a student body representing 33 different states and an international presence benefits from one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country.  A large caseload supports experts across a number of veterinary specialties, including dentistry, oncology, behavior, dermatology and others.

As a result, students receive a world-class education from faculty with broad expertise ranging from the basic science to advanced and public health training.  The College of Veterinary Medicine offers D.V.M., M.S., Ph.D. and two dual degree tracks.

Such specialization does come at a cost: the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine is currently in the top tier in total cost. But University officials are hopeful initiatives such as the Minnesota Rural Veterinarian Loan Forgiveness Program and VetFAST will continue to support loan payment while meeting the increasing veterinary demands of Minnesota.

“We’re preparing our graduates to touch every corner of the veterinary profession,” said Ames.  “Our graduates go on to protect the health of both animals and people.  They go on to find cures for disease and develop vaccines.  They also serve on the front lines of surveillance for outbreaks of animal diseases that can cross over to human populations.  The demand for veterinarians in our state is strong, and we need to do what we can do to continue to meet that demand.”

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