Fix the Debt Summit results in possible solutions
At Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine (MSU/CVM) last month, 180 individuals including veterinary students, recent graduates, representatives from veterinary medical colleges, veterinary employers, governmental agencies, and veterinary associations gathered to develop approaches to solving student debt and reducing the debt to income ratio (DIR), which is an indicator of financial health of veterinarians entering the profession. Currently, the DIR is 2:1, indicating the level of educational debt is twice the level of starting income.
Student debt is the single biggest issue facing the profession and could impact the number and quality of students applying for veterinary medical education. The single biggest factor of student debt is decreased public funding for higher education. Financial burdens also carry a negative effect to mental health and professional well-being, a major concern recently discussed at the AVMA Wellness Roundtable in March.
Possible solutions to the debt problem were developed by the participants:
- To explore and implement a five-to-six-year program for students to earn a D.V.M. degree; by working with local undergraduate institutions on refining the curricula, this would enable students to have two extra years to earn income;
- To encourage creation of national partnerships and campaigns to raise funds for scholarships;
- To work with the AAVMC and AVMA in advocating for legislation to help reduce student debt; and
- To document actual educational costs and charge accordingly, which would, among other things, create greater transparency in revenue lines for research and education.
Employers of Veterinarians
- To reconsider compensation packages for new graduates/associate veterinarians;
- To improve the onboarding of new employees and create a toolkit for best practices;
- To promote a positive culture of preventative care within staff and beyond by engaging other areas of the profession in using resources as a guide to open more opportunities for recent graduates to earn more income; and
- To promote practice ownership as an attractive alternative career.
- To provide career awareness to students by delivering financial literacy materials and training, and developing a career guidebook for use by pre-veterinary students;
- To increase advocacy efforts to address student debt;
- To create a national campaign around student debt; and
- To include student debt as a regular follow-up agenda item at annual events such as the AVMA Economic Summit, AVMA Convention and AAVMC Conference; the purpose of this would be to monitor progress on efforts to reduce the DIR and to hold each other accountable.
- To personally engage deans, their peers and future students in conversations about financial literacy and student debt;
- To inform pre-veterinary students about the current student debt issue and discuss what is being done to address it; and
- To change their mindset from ownership to entrepreneurship, and work on developing a campaign where every veterinarian commits to being an entrepreneur.
At the conclusion of the summit, the participants expressed commitment to doing their part to help reduce student debt.