Chart of the month: Does student debt influence career choices?

School debt continues to rise. In 2021, the average debt-ridden vet school graduate owed $186,430 in student loans, up 17% from 2011 when adjusted for inflation.

To help understand and manage this trend, AVMA economists have conducted further research into the impact of student debt on the profession. A key finding: student debt may be linked to the career choices of graduate students.

What does the data show?

New grads who choose to work in private practice have $25,675 more student debt, on average, than those who go into public practice positions.

While we don’t know the reasons for each graduate’s career choice, we do know that public practice – including positions in government, uniformed services, academia, industry, business operations and non-profit organizations – usually pays less than private practice. . Starting salaries for graduates choosing private practice averaged $98,705 in 2021, compared to $84,872 for public practice.

What does it mean?

The data, from two decades of the AVMA’s annual surveys of graduate students (2001-2021), suggests that debt levels are associated with the career choices of recent graduates. The higher a student’s debt, the more likely they will choose a job with a higher starting salary.

These results could help explain why it has been difficult to attract veterinarians into public practice, despite targeted incentives like the public service loan forgiveness program. Public practice remains an uncommon career choice, attracting only 3.7% of new graduates in 2021. This matters because veterinary involvement in these fields can translate into huge benefits for society as we we strive to understand, detect, control and prevent threats to the public and animals. health—roles for which veterinarians are uniquely qualified.

AVMA has your back: what we do to help you

Ideally, vets at all stages of their career would be free to pursue their dreams, without any constraints related to school debt. This is one of the reasons the AVMA places a high priority on developing programs and resources to provide debt relief and help veterinarians thrive in rewarding, financially viable careers. Here is a sampling of AVMA’s work:

  • In Washington, AVMA works closely with lawmakers to support programs that provide relief from veterinary student debt and to oppose policies that would make it worse. This includes protecting and improving civil service loan forgiveness, among many other advocacy efforts. This work has tangible results for AVMA members and other veterinary professionals. For example, the 2022 federal budget provides millions of dollars for important veterinary programs, including increased funding for the Veterinary Drug Loan Reimbursement Program.
  • AVMA economists continue to look at the impacts of education debt on the profession and how debt might be reduced or even avoided. More recently, they published reports in JAVMA exploring associations between student debt and career choice, as well as differences between recent graduates with and without student debt.
  • The AVMA’s website for veterinary students and early career veterinarians, My Veterinary Life®, offers videos and other financial resources to help new veterinarians get started on the path to a strong financial footing. . The site is designed for current students, new vets and aspiring professionals.
  • AVMA Axon® offers a variety of webinars on student debt and other financial issues. Topics include student loan repayment options and buying a practice even if you have debt, among others.
  • AVMA and its partners continue to pilot the Veterinary Debt Initiative, with a mission to reduce the impact of the cost of education on pursuing a personally and professionally rewarding veterinary career.

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