Education costs, global roles worry AVMA delegates

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Veterinary students are bearing more of the cost of their education as state and federal governments have cut higher education funding.

In July, AVMA leaders debated how they could help reduce those costs, as well as help veterinarians and students manage existing debt. They also deliberated over what role the AVMA should have in international veterinary medicine and whether members understand those activities and how they are beneficial.

AVMA House of Delegates meeting
(Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Members of the AVMA House of Delegates passed recommendations that, pending approval by the AVMA Board of Directors, would have the AVMA study what to do on each topic.

The delegates said in those votes that the Board and AVMA staff should study how to give veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinary school applicants access to financial advisers. They should find and promote ways veterinarians in private practice can help students manage their educational costs. They should consider developing a low-interest loan program for veterinary students. And they should consider creating tools state VMAs can use to advocate for higher education funding and loan repayment programs.

The delegates also said AVMA staff should make plans to educate AVMA members about the Association's international activities, as well as find out how much members understand and support those activities and priorities. The staff also should learn whether AVMA members want to be personally involved in global AVMA activities. And they should assess models for international AVMA membership.

In deliberations before the votes, delegates had various suggestions how to provide relief from educational debt: Veterinarians need to leave school with the confidence to start working with only a degree and basic medical supplies. They should be frugal for longer. Maybe established veterinarians can create a fund to give students discounted loans.

Delegates also talked about the decline in federal and state government contributions toward education. Some questioned whether students are being asked to not only fund much of their own education but also pay for research and build university endowments.

Dr. Michael Ames, delegate for Arizona, said the AVMA should consider funding a scholarship matching program, as well as asking that universities examine what costs they are asking that students bear. Dr. Richard Sullivan, delegate for California, said the AVMA should consider encouraging federal legislation that would let employers help pay off student loans, with pre-tax money, as part of an employee's benefit package.

Dr. Amanda Bisol, alternate delegate for Maine, said the AVMA could work with banks to help younger veterinarians buy clinics. Clinic ownership helped her pay off her educational loans. Plus, improving access to clinic ownership could help veterinarians who want to sell their practices.

On global activities, Dr. Sandy Willis, delegate for Washington state, said the world recognizes the AVMA as a leader in medicine and animal health. She asked delegates to consider how the Association should prioritize requests for help.

Dr. Michael Topper, 2017-2018 AVMA president, said international partners are asking for help developing programs to educate veterinarians. Having competent veterinarians everywhere is good for everyone, he said.

Dr. Cathy Lund, delegate for Rhode Island, said the AVMA can help other nations with resources similar to those provided to state VMAs. Dr. William Sander, alternate delegate for Washington, D.C., said the AVMA's efforts on trade, disease, and research have reciprocal benefits for American veterinarians.

Others described the resources already available from the AVMA and the potential to be an even stronger voice for improvement in animal care.

Dr. James Brett, delegate for Mississippi, warned that some veterinarians don't understand why the AVMA works with other countries, and the Association needs to improve its education for colleagues on that topic.

Related JAVMA content:

Divided by debt (Jan. 1, 2018)

AVMA backs bills on student loans, debt (Jan. 1, 2018)

Students limited in ability to control educational debt (June 15, 2017)