The majority of veterinarians say they don’t make enough money to live comfortably and pay off student loans. That disheartening data is courtesy of the 2012 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Survey.
"It’s alarming," says Dr. Andrew Rollo, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and an associate at Madison Veterinary Hospital in Michigan. "All the hard work veterinarians go through and to have the majority feel that way that is concerning."
It's especially concerning considering that only three years ago most veterinarians said they did make enough dough to get out of debt (see data in this article). In 2009, only 17 percent of veterinarians reported a student debt load of $50,000 or more. Today, that number pushes 40 percent.
So what do you do when you’re drowning in debt? Dr. Rollo suggests keeping all of your options open. He says veterinary students tend to go straight into small animal clinics without a second thought -- he wishes veterinary colleges would expose them to other veterinary fields that might have more demand, such as farm animal and public service.
Dr. Rollo also reminds associates that a lot of owners in their 60s will be retiring soon. "Practice ownership can double salaries," he says. "With interest rates as low as they are, it's a great time to own. You can find a partner to split the load and share responsibility.
Why it pays to work for a well-managed practice
If recent graduates are going to have a prayer of covering their student debt, they need to seek out well-managed practices for employment, says Cynthia Wutchiett, CPA, founder of Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates in Columbus, Ohio and co-founder of Benchmarks: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. While these practices may not initially pay the highest salary, the probability of the associate earning compensation far above the national averages sooner rather than later is very high, she says.
Well-managed practices think about the long-term when it comes to relationships with associates and therefore implement management systems to help associates succeed, Wutchiett says. These practices take time to hire a good match, provide a thorough orientation for new employees, invest in training, and evaluate associates' performance, attitude, and personal skills. "They also compensate associates based on performance in many areas, not just production," Wutchiett says.
If you want to get out of debt as quickly as possible, choose the gig with the best chances for advancement. Here are the six questions Wutchiett says you must ask before accepting a job offer:
> Is there an interview process? Make sure the interviewer is following a prepared set of questions rather than just "shooting from the hip."
> Is there a written position description? Ask for a copy. Make sure the interview questions are directly related to the job requirements.
> Is there a standard evaluation form and process? Get a copy and make sure it relates to the position description.
> Is there an orientation process? Employers should provide a week-by-week outline that covers the first six months of employment -- in detail.
> Is there an employee self-development plan? This is a way for associates and practice owners to set annual goals for professional development and establish a plan for achieving them.
> What's in the employment agreement? This form should include such details as compensation, benefits, work schedule, leave, responsibilities, duties, termination, and so on. If your goal is to be involved in management, does the contract detail an established process for transitioning into management? And if your goal is to become a practice owner, is there an established process, in writing, for transitioning into ownership?
"Well-managed practices invest a remarkable amount of time in their associates, so employees are considerably more productive and happier," Wutchiett says. "This allows the practice to pay associates more. And given its investment in its associates, it can't afford not to."