Thinking About a Career in Veterinary Medicine?

By Deb Haines

The doctors get asked a few times a month in Goat Vet Corner and in Horse Vet Corner suggestions on entering vet school, Dr. Chastine has been kind enough to provide some helpful information.

M Nanette Chastine DVM …….. I taught undergraduate and was a pre-vet advisor, so hopefully I can offer some helpful advice.
So, being well rounded helps. Be active and focused on your academics, but also be active in school or outside school activities that are interesting to you. Both in high school and once you get into college. They want to see a student that can manage multiple aspects of their life at once, and that it doesn’t take all of their focus just to get the grades, or deal with the stresses that come with the profession….trust me, this profession taxes you mentally, physically, and psychologically, so you have to be able to handle it and balance it. To give you a harsh reality check, I know 3 people from the vet school class ahead of mine that have committed suicide because of the pressures of this profession. So be ready. And trust me, school doesn’t prepare you for that.
Definitely gain animal and veterinary experience at ranches, zoos, aquariums, vet clinics, or wherever there are animals and professional people working with them. Keep a log book with hours worked/volunteered, who was in charge of you and contact information, duties you completed, and interesting things you saw. That log book will come in handy when you apply to vet school, as most want a minimum of 500 verifiable hours. And don’t turn down a volunteer opportunity in an area of vet med that you aren’t currently interested in as you never know what might become interesting, or that gives you contacts or avenues to follow later on.
As for your undergrad school and degree, it doesn’t matter where you go or what you major in. Read that statement again….it’s true.
What you want to do is go to a good undergraduate school with reasonable tuition with the classes and opportunities for your degree and for the prerequisite classes that the vet schools require. Mostly maths and sciences. But they do require some general education classes as well. I highly recommend taking psychology classes in undergrad, as well as business, and comparative vertebrate anatomy courses. I even took a pathophysiology class from the nursing program when I was in undergrad (I had to get permission from the academic head of my degree department as well as the head of the nursing department) because I thought it would be beneficial, and boy was I right. So think outside the box on classes beyond the requirements.
Also keep in mind that if you look like you are failing a class…DON’T drop or withdraw from it. Yes, your GPA can take a hit, but the selection committee would much rather see that you persevered and tried again rather than gave up at the first sign of adversity.
When you take classes for your degree and the prerequisites, mix them up, “easy” along with the more difficult courses. Makes for a better GPA.
Vet school selection committees typically calculate your GPA on several factors: overall, last 45 hours, and on science/math prerequisites. So if you’ve mixed the classes and not left the hardest for last, that will give you an edge.
I also recommend you sit down with the undergraduate catalogs and plan out a tentative 4 year plan to complete your degree requirements, your vet school requirements, and any extras you want to take. Look at prerequisites for each course you need as some you can’t take until you’ve completed several others. Also look at when they are offered, as not all classes are offered each semester, or even each year. Some are offered only in sequence, some on demand when enough students are at a point to take it. So it’s good to have a plan before you end up finishing everything else except that one Biochemistry class that is only offered Spring semester of odd-numbered years and it is currently the Spring semester of an even year that you need the class in (it happens).
GPA to be considered at all: 3.0 on 4.0 scale. To actually be competitive: 3.6 or preferably better.
Keep in mind that there are only 32, maybe 33, accredited vet schools in the US. So not every state has one, although Alabama has two: Auburn (public)…See More
I recommend trying to have your prerequisites done by the end of your junior year of college so that you can apply that year. And if you don’t get in on your first application (most don’t) you have a year to correct things and retake problem classes.
Resources for you to check out: www.avma.orgAmerican Veterinary Medical Association – Home Scientific, news, business and other resources for veterinarians, including news, online discussions, veterinary events and CE, legislative tracking, and more. And probably your most important one:…/Veterinary-Medical-College…, as it gives you a listing of all of the vet schools and their prerequisites, as well as giving you a good idea as to what the application process entails. Che…See MoreVMCAS All the tools you need to prepare you for your veterinary medical education career!
Here is an example from UGA where I graduated from. Academic Affairs Mailing Address Office for Academic Affairs College of Veterinary Medicine The University of Georgia Athens,…
And as a last bit of advice. Complete an undergraduate degree in a field that you can see yourself working in if you don’t get into vet school. The reality is that not every one does, so you need to have an alternate plan.
And unless you plan on attending a graduate program to become an extension agent or professor, there aren’t many things you can do to make a living wage on a bachelor’s degree in animal science, or even biology…So keep that in mind.

Do Vets make a huge profit ?

This post is in response to members asking if we as veterinarians feel that we make a huge profit, as stated by another FB group that she is on.
If they know where I can make a huge profit, please let me know, I need it to help pay off my student loans. No, seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living and I love to help people help their animals, but who doesn’t want to make a good living while they work? I make enough to get by, to make ends meet, but I certainly am not able to set the world on fire, or drive fancy wheels, or even take a vacation every year. My truck is a 2002 model and my horse trailer is a 1989 stock trailer. I did finally get a new “used” vehicle this year, but I had to have something more reliable than my old truck. I live in a double wide trailer on 10 acres. And I’ve been a veterinarian for 5 months shy of 10 years now.

I have a decent mortgage and living expenses, and yes, I’m able to raise a herd of goats and rabbits, and have a few horses for fun. But even after 10 years since graduating, my original student loan debt ($174,000 to start) is now down to roughly $155,000, and that is after paying off two separate $20,000 loans and I’ll be paying on the remaining consolidated loans and their interest until the day I die, or 30+ years, whichever comes first. And the amount I pay each month is equivalent to the mortgage payment on another house.

I work as an associate veterinarian in a 2 1/2 doctor practice. The 1/2 doctor is the owner, and she is mostly retired, only coming in occasionally or when we need someone to cover one of the other two of us. As such, I don’t set the prices for the services I provide. The accountant, the practice manager, and the owner do that, based on all of the overhead variables for this particular practice, which includes salaries for each veterinarian (mine hasn’t increased appreciably in 5 years working there), and hourly wages for the receptionists and veterinary assistants, and the groomer. Other variables include benefits for the veterinarians: they pay our veterinary license fees, AVMA membership, and professional liability insurance, and fees for one continuing education seminar per year. Business fees to the town, electricity, phone and internet service, TV service (cabled veterinary channel), upkeep and maintenance of veterinary equipment and of the building itself (built in 1978), and definitely don’t forget the pharmaceuticals. And we keep the bare minimum on hand to try and keep overhead down. As it is, we are on a first name basis with our UPS delivery guy as he is in our clinic delivering orders at least 4 out of 5 days per week.

To put to rest any rumors to the contrary, no we do not get paid for trying to sell any particular brand of food. Yes, we do get nutritional and behavioral training in vet school.

Now, is there a profit margin. Well, yes. It is a business, just like any other service industry. Even human hospitals make a profit. Now, is there a range of fees for services? Yes, just like with human hospitals. But even with insurance these days, the only place a human can go into a medical facility and get care without paying is an ER, and that is because of federal laws granting that. However, that is changing and most require a co-pay now. A human can not go into a regular doctor’s office and walk out without paying for things done, or even be able to negotiate payment after the fact. No payment of copay or a portion of the deductible at the time the person walks in the door, and services don’t happen. Very few human doctor offices actually allow scheduled payments anymore except on big ticket items or for hospitalized procedures and that is all negotiated in advance and usually handled by a separate department, and the payments are often handled by an outside company. Unfortunately, veterinarians don’t typically hire outside companies to handle payment arrangements. And without payment, those clinic doors won’t stay open long at all.

If you have been unfortunate enough to have needed medical care recently, then you have seen how expensive everything is. Having good insurance buffers the majority of us from the realities of how expensive it is. Take a look at any line item listings by a hospital and it will give you heart palpitations. Have you heard of anyone going to the human pharmacy for a medication that their doctor prescribed and it was $900 for a month’s supply even with prescription drug coverage? Outrageous isn’t it? Well, keep in mind that the same equipment and pharmaceuticals that human medicine uses, so do we as veterinarians. And they cost us just the same, maybe more if we don’t have the buying power that a chain corporation does. I’ve prescribed medications that we don’t keep on hand and a client has called me back asking for alternatives as the pharmacy wants $600 for 2 weeks of something. We don’t set those prices, and we certainly don’t get any kickback from it. And sometimes there is not a suitable alternative. And with livestock, many of our choices are limited by the FDA because of regulations regarding drug use in food-producing animals. Most of our clients don’t have insurance for their pets, and they definitely don’t have it for their livestock. As it is, pet insurance typically reimburses the owner after the owner has paid the clinic in full.

Overhead is huge. It costs a lot to run a veterinary clinic, even a mobile one. But what about those free or sliding-fee spay/neuter clinics, or the vaccine clinics, you ask. Well, many of those spay/neuter clinics are associated with a humane society, or they receive grants and donations that enable them to offer limited services for a steeply discounted range of fees. And many of those are not-for-profit, kinda like health departments for humans. As to the vaccine clinics, they are just that. They don’t examine your animal, diagnose illness, treat injuries, or provide any kind of a lasting relationship over the lifetime of your pet or livestock animal. You can’t call them in the middle of the night about a perceived problem (and yes, ERs are more expensive, whether they are human or veterinary-related). Don’t get me wrong, those reduced fee places have their place. But they are not what you will get out of building a relationship with a veterinarian in a true clinic, or one that provides mobile veterinary services. Even veterinarians that work as solo practitioners/practice owners have the same outlay of expenses that multi-doctor practices do, but they tend to have to put more hours in to cover all the needs of their clients. Mobile veterinarians might not have the building and its expenses to worry about, but the vehicle and its adaptations (truck body), insurance, and major wear and tear from the mileage put on them, are a whole different set of expenses. Location also plays a lot in fees charged, but then if you look at other services in those areas, chances are their fees are more expensive, too.

It’s amazing to me how someone can call a plumber or heating and air guy out because of an emergency, and they don’t wonder about the profit they make, and shoot, those guys make a heck of a lot more per hour for their company than I do for mine. And they are never called heartless or that they should just do it for free because they have to have running water because of their children. Cash on the barrel head. Payment at the time of services rendered, unless a payment arrangement is made in advance (and that is typically through a 3rd party as a loan). Vet clinics are not banks, most have been burned too many times for promises of payment that are never followed up on, so the reality is, you have to be ready, or qualify for Care Credit at the practices that accept it. It is expensive. Yes. If we could do it for free, then we most likely would. But, we have to make a living, too.

Is there more profit margin in some places than in others, yes, but honestly, you’ll find that the largest profit margins are where the owners are large corporations, not your single veterinarians or even your multi-doctor, single owner practices, eeking out a living helping one animal at a time. And the profits made by those large corporations certainly doesn’t go into the pockets of the veterinarians that work for them, but instead goes back into the corporate head’s pockets, or back into the business.

Most veterinarians go into the profession to help animals. End of story. This is definitely NOT a profession to go into to make money or get rich. Can you make a comfortable living, yes, if you are lucky enough to not be hampered by a huge student debt load, which is increasingly difficult these days, I think the average debt load for graduating students is close to $200,000, and the starting salary averages around $60,000. I’ve been in the profession almost 10 years, and my annual salary is about that now.

My younger nephew just graduated from pharmacy school and his first job, very first job, his starting salary is $120,000 per year. Great benefits, no after hour or emergency work. No hassles about his profit margin where he works. BUT, he doesn’t get to meet the people that I have met,rejoiced with owners over the animals that we have managed to save, cried with them when we just couldn’t make it work for another animal, or helped educate clients so that they could help their animals like we do here in GVC, or through RVO which is made possible by donations. That is what makes veterinarians rich. The people and the animals. NOT the money.

© copy rights This was written by Dr M Nanette Chastine DVM

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