An infected animal bite. A back injury. Debilitating allergies. Toxoplasmosis. Leptospirosis.
There are many occupational risks—along with the everyday possibilities of illness or injury—that can keep a veterinarian away from work for a few days, weeks, or even longer. It may not be something as dramatic as a career-ending injury or critical illness that prevents a veterinarian from practicing. For instance, an allergy to animals, which other people may find to be an inconvenience, can progress into a serious illness for veterinarians because of their constant, high-level exposure.
Allergies are a prime example of the value of the "own occupation plus" option available with the AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust's long-term disability coverage. Mild allergies can often be controlled through a combination of medications and workplace interventions. But when the allergic reaction is severe, often the only recourse is to leave clinical practice. The personal disappointment of being forced to leave veterinary work can be difficult to assuage; the financial impact, however, can be mitigated.
Disability insurance can provide financial compensation as long as the veterinarian is unable to work in any capacity. If the veterinarian selects the "own occupation plus" option, disability insurance will pay full benefits for up to five years if the veterinarian is able to work, but not in the veterinary profession, and provided that the work does not require the use of their veterinary education. To qualify for benefits, the veterinarian must experience a reduction of predisability earnings by at least 25 percent.
In the case of severe allergies, once the exposure to animals is eliminated, the veterinarian often recovers but is not able to practice in an animal setting. The "own occupation plus" coverage oftentimes makes it possible for the veterinarian to return to school or change professions, and still receive disability benefits.
Dr. Dan Loper, a 1993 graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, had the misfortune of developing animal allergies so severe they not only cost him his career but also seriously impaired his health. He did have the good fortune, however, of receiving excellent advice from his AVMA GHLIT insurance representative upon graduation from veterinary college.
"My agent, Scott Satterfield, came to my home and we sat around the kitchen table," Dr. Loper recalled. "He guided me toward buying more (insurance), but I told him, 'No, no, no, we just want the basics.' There was nothing to give us any indication of what was going to happen."
Satterfield was able to convince Dr. Loper not only to purchase disability insurance but also to purchase the "own occupation plus" coverage. In just a few years, Satterfield's advice and Dr. Loper's decision to take it proved to be more valuable than either of them imagined.
Although he experienced mild symptoms during the first year of practice, Dr. Loper reported his health problems increased "dramatically and exponentially" during the second and third years. Routine sinus infections progressed to bronchitis. He began having migraines and respiratory distress. Sinus surgeries did not solve the problem. Constant antimicrobial use wreaked havoc on his digestive system.
Despite the obvious health issues confronting him in the workplace, Dr. Loper did not want to give up his dream of being a veterinarian. He had not given up before, when his initial application to veterinary school was rejected. Instead, he had earned a pharmacy degree and used that as a steppingstone to veterinary college.
When an allergist finally confronted him with the fact that not only was he allergic to virtually all animals, but that his particular allergy was one of the most difficult to desensitize, Dr. Loper sought to exhaust all his options.
"You are not going to get me out of the practice," he told his doctor. "Look what I did to get there."
When none of the medical interventions worked, and with his health steadily deteriorating, Dr. Loper finally accepted the fact he would have to leave the profession.
"I probably should have gotten out of practice sooner," he admitted. "I am still paying today for my decisions."
On the other hand, the decision to purchase disability insurance is one that has paid off for Dr. Loper and his family.
Satterfield stays in touch with Dr. Loper and continues to give new graduates the same advice he gave him in 1992.
"I let them know that disability insurance is hard to get, across the industry," Satterfield said. "At graduation, it's a guaranteed issue. For some veterinarians, this might be the only time they could get it."
"The AVMA GHLIT's disability product is well-priced," he added. "Outside the Trust, you could expect to pay a third- to half-again more."
"Financially, it helped me tremendously," Dr. Loper reported. "It made it easier to return to pharmacy. I wouldn't have wanted to have been without it."
"One of the best things we've got going for us as veterinarians is that the AVMA GHLIT will stand behind the practitioners. They go above and beyond the call of the policy."
"If my story can jog some young man or woman into signing up for the coverage, it's worth it," Dr. Loper continued. "I want to encourage every student to purchase as much long-term and short-term disability coverage as you can get."
For more information on the AVMA GHLIT,
call (800) 621-6360 or visit