Student Debt: Threat or Opportunity?

Several perspectives on this topic are covered in depth in a special February issue of Trends magazine.

It’s time to take another look at veterinary student debt, according to AAHA President-Elect John Tait, DVM, MBA, CFP.

As framed to date, discussions about student debt, often dubbed the elephant in the room, have focused on the fact that the salaries of recent graduates are insufficient to pay student loans and attain the lifestyle generally associated with professional status.

But the value of a veterinary degree isn’t measured by the salary you earn early in your career, Tait maintained during a session at the North American Veterinary Conference in January.

Rather, students and recent graduates should take the long view and look at the lifetime value of their education.

Tait, a certified financial planner, urged students to expand their understanding of how debt translates into value. Professional status, income and wealth-creation, and standard of living are all part of the return on investment for a veterinary degree, he said.

“Return on investment is not entry-level salary,” he said.

Rather, students should look at the total return on their investment over the lifetime of their careers, including

  • qualitative (nonmonetary) returns, such as
  • career planning, life balance, flexibility and autonomy the profession allows;
  • the fact that veterinarians earn, over their lifetimes, 7-9% more than workers with bachelor’s degrees;
  • incremental increases in salary over 20-50-year career; and,
  • perhaps most important, opportunities for wealth-creation through tax efficiencies and transferable equity (for those with an ownership stake in a practice).

Tait discusses these topics and more in his article, “Degrees of Debt,” which appears in the February issue of Trends magazine.  Other articles in the magazine cover

  • contributing to practice profitability
  • SMART mentoring
  • exam room efficiency
  • salary negotiation
  • communicating with experienced staff

The special issue of the magazine will be distributed to 10,000 students through veterinary teaching hospitals.

Discussions about student debt and related topics will be featured on March 28 at the AAHA Yearly Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., March 26-29. The session will be recorded and posted on the AAHA website.