Even as it celebrated, the Veterinary Scholarship Trust of New England leveraged its 50th Gala Anniversary for the economic benefit of students facing massive debt.
First, the trust commissioned Dr. Robin Truelove Stronk to paint "Eyes on the Future" to commemorate its golden anniversary, and the painting was featured as the Oct. 1, 2008, JAVMA cover. Limited-edition prints are available at two donation levels to the scholarship fund.
Most support for VSTONE comes from the region's veterinarians. The trust commissioned the painting to expand the donor base beyond the current 10 percent of New England veterinarians.
Then, the New England VMA regional conference Sept. 26-28 attracted a record 560 registrants, and many of them attended VSTONE's soiree at the Portland Museum of Art's glass gallery, where the artwork was formally presented and prints made available. The original painting is on loan to Tufts veterinary school and hangs in the office of Dean Deborah Kochevar.
Dr. Richard Sheehan of Mansfield, Mass., who has chaired the VSTONE board for 20 years, said, "It is incumbent on the whole profession to try to help the veterinary students and keep their indebtedness down so they get a good start in the profession."
Mean educational debt among 2008 U.S. veterinary student graduates with debt was $119,803, according to an AVMA survey. This is a 12 percent increase over 2007.
In spring 2008, VSTONE awarded 149 scholarships worth $105,000. Over the past eight years, $785,000 has been distributed. Each year, 120 to 170 students apply for VSTONE scholarships.
These are a few examples of the notes Dr. Sheehan has received from grateful students: "It is nice to have the stress of finances alleviated so that I can focus on my studies and at least for a short while forget about the debt." "I look forward to when I become a doctor and can give back what I have received."
Dr. J. Clyde Johnson, a VSTONE trustee, entered veterinary school at Penn in 1958. "I believe then tuition was $600 a year. When I got out of school in '62, my starting salary was $5,100 a year—more than eight times tuition. If students today could get eight times their tuition, they'd be smiling.
"If I worked hard, which I did all summer long, I could make enough to put myself through veterinary school. Veterinary students needed money then, but they really need money now."
The scholarship program is designed to alleviate some of the debt for New England residents who are students in good standing at AVMA-accredited veterinary colleges. New England students are currently enrolled at 24 schools. VSTONE considers residents to include students who graduated from a New England public high school or who lived in the region for five consecutive years preceding their veterinary college admission.
Founded by the late Dr. Cornelius Thibeault, the scholarship trust fund has helped support more than 800 veterinary students since 1958.
Dr. Sheehan said. "We started out small, in Massachusetts for the first 25 to 30 years, and then expanded to all the New England states."
Visit www.VeterinaryScholarshipTrust.org or contact Dr. Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (941) 497-5879.