Going to vet school, for many, is a dream. It is the accumulation of years of hard work, sweat, and (probably) some tears.
But what if you couldn’t afford a veterinary education? Or pay off the debt levied on you thereafter?
In this article, we discuss the REAL cost of vet school and how rising tuition fees could be discouraging students from entering the profession- especially those from underprivileged backgrounds.
The Cost Of Vet School
Going to veterinary school isn’t exactly a cheap endeavor.
If you are an American looking to study veterinary medicine, for example, a four-year course can cost upwards of $200,000 (yikes!).
This sum becomes even more eye-watering when you realize that US vets are required to take a four-year undergraduate course before even pursuing a veterinary degree.
In the UK, veterinary students can expect to pay around £9,250 a year for their education (which is pretty standard for most undergrads). However, vet courses are slightly different from other degrees, as they are much longer. This means most students leave university with around £70,000 worth of debt (if you include maintenance fees). This has risen substantially over the years.
Dr. Avery, the founder of Our Pet’s Health, studied in the UK but now lives with his family in New Zealand. When asked about student debt, he said:
‘I remember being at school and everyone went straight into uni because tuition fees went from zero to a thousand pounds a year. That would have been 1997- or 98. Then it went up to three, and now it’s nine. Which, for a five-year course is a huge amount’.
‘I can imagine after being through a couple of financial crises and a pandemic, that maybe people entering the course are thinking about the cost a little more.’
Tuition fees are not the only cost students have to consider. Living expenses can vary a lot from city to city and put a significant dent in students’ wallets.
‘Vet schools in the UK tend to be based in cities- which can be very expensive. We’re talking London, Cambridge, Bristol, Edinburgh… They are major and popular cities which aren’t cheap.’ said Dr. Avery.
‘Students have to pay fees, plus living costs. If you don’t have parents who can afford to support you, then you may struggle.’
Is Veterinary School TOO Expensive?
This question depends on what you consider ‘affordable’.
But given that the average yearly income in the US is $65,836- paying for vet school outright can be potentially perceived as impossible for families .
In the UK, almost half of students feel like they don’t have enough to live on, and a third have to take up part-time work to help pay for their expenses .
Low-income students may also have the added disadvantage of having to balance school AND work. This may impact their studies, or put them under additional psychological stress.
Considering a veterinary degree is a full-time lecture commitment (plus study time), it’s not hard to see why student stress, especially in those having to work part-time, is running so high.
The problem doesn’t stop after school ends either. Compared to other medical professions, vets earn a lot less during their lifetime. For instance, in the US, though medical school costs around $290,201, the median income of a doctor sits around $206,500 . The median income for vets, on the other hand, is only around $95,460 .
With most vets in the US leaving school with around $188,853 of debt, that is a huge financial and mental burden. Many young vets have to settle for higher-paying jobs to cover their outgoings, deferring important life decisions (like starting a family), to cover their debt .
And with higher pay comes greater expectations. This pressure all comes at a cost to wellbeing.
It’s doable but difficult, and a very different picture compared to incumbent generations who did not have to work under the same level of financial pressure. All taken together, it’s not hard to see why burnout is at epidemic levels.
A Barrier For New Talent
Not only do high fees negatively impact student intake, but they also discourage low-income and minority students from pursuing certain veterinary pathways .
This doesn’t fare well for a woefully homogenous profession. In the UK, for example, although 30% of the working population are Black, Asian, or from other ethnic minority backgrounds, a huge proportion of veterinary professionals are not (around 97% to be exact) .
‘I think [vet school costs] will put people off pursuing veterinary medicine in lower socio-economic groups. The diversity across the profession is terrible, it’s pretty much just white, middle-class people’, said Dr. Avery.
‘I don’t think that’s particularly good for the profession, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the clients that we serve.’
‘But I guess its effects depend on how acutely aware students are of the economic implications of being a vet’.
With the rise of students paying for veterinary school outright, what does this mean for the future of our profession? Is veterinary medicine moving towards greater exclusivity, rather than inclusivity?
This issue isn’t just a moral imperative, but also an economic one. With more and more practices struggling to retain veterinary staff, the last thing this profession needs is to become even less accessible for students.
Advice For Students Worried About Veterinary School Costs
Although the cost of vet school may be intimidating, finances shouldn’t come between students and their dreams.
When it comes to financing their education, most students can take out loans that will cover their expenses. In the UK, loan repayments work like a ‘graduate tax’, which is capped and forgiven after several years.
Many schools also offer scholarships and grants. These are great options for talented low-income students.
If you live in the US, loan forgiveness programs or income-driven repayment plans may also be viable options. Some businesses also offer student loan repayments as a sort of ‘work-perk’, certainly something to be mindful of.
The Bottom Line
There is much work to be done to make veterinary medicine more attractive for students. One of those things will be improving the rewards for frontline staff. Thankfully, this is a trend that we are starting to see as a result of increased pet owner demand and clinical staff shortages.
Wages are rising as companies aggressively compete to get graduates through their doors. The smart negotiator could see a sizable chunk of debt paid off quickly. Though we hazard against this choice without considering carefully the culture of any future employer.
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2- ‘AVS/BVA Student Market Research Results 2020.’ https://www.bva.co.uk/media/3359/avsbva-research.pdf. Accessed 7 Sept. 2021.
3- ’10 Most Expensive Private Medical Schools – U.S. News.’ 25 May. 2021, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/the-short-list-grad-school/articles/most-expensive-private-medical-schools. Accessed 7 Sept. 2021.
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