It should come as no surprise that the majority of not only veterinary students, but all college students in the U.S., have a large amount of student loan debt. It seems like a new student debt article pops up every single day, outlining some new issue or some new legislation that is designed to help students have less debt. I have high hopes for the future…something must change in order to keep diversity in veterinary medicine to it keep it from turning into a profession of the financially elite. While all of these things are troubling, the most troubling thing to me is one that focuses more on the heart of education and the reasons why we should all go to school in the first place. Schooling is, in spirit, designed to encourage and cultivate the development of the mind and the exploration of new knowledge. It is designed to teach us to inquire and develop as problem solvers. However, time and time again, I have seen students stray away from what they are truly passionate about due to the financial reality of that path.
I have seen people who would make fantastic, near perfect, equine veterinarians choose a life of small animal practice because they were afraid of their debt load and the projected income for a typical equine veterinarian. Many people are interested in wildlife medicine and conservation, but end up pursuing a different area of focus since the salary of a wildlife vet is hardly able to work with the amount of loans that vet school requires us to take on.
I cannot help but think about what we are missing out on. How many scientific breakthroughs are we going to delay since some of the best minds might not find their way into the professional service that they would best flourish in? Sure, many of us will find our way to our desired job eventually, but time is short. We have huge problems facing our profession and our world, and they are not waiting for us to pay our loans back. Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise for human and veterinary medicine, new zoonotic diseases pop up often, and the human population is growing at an astronomical rate. We need bright minds researching what they are best at to find solutions to these problems. We need professionals to be in the fields where they can best serve our planet’s humans and animals, not worrying about how they are going to pay back a mortgage-worth of student loans.