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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Vet Debt: Student Loan Forgiveness Could Ease Rural Veterinarian Shortage

It 's hard enough finding a doctor in rural South Dakota (that free market thingy is working so gosh-darn well for us). Apparently South Dakota's horses, cows, and other big critters have fewer health care choices as well: Chuck Clement reports in Friday's Madison Daily Leader that rural South Dakota has a worsening veterinarian shortage.

If you ride your horse to work in Sioux Falls or Rapid City, don't worry: apparently 39% of our vet's offices and 42% of vet-science workers are based in those two cities. But out in the small towns, our vets are getting older, and the vet schools aren't getting a lot of applicants to fill the pipeline.

Now I haven't looked into whether a universal single-payer not-for-profit coverage system would work the wonders on animal health care that it would for people health care. But Clement's article does point toward one parallel between the veterinarian and doctor shortages in rural South Dakota: both stem in part from high student debt. Young doctors graduate with $150K–$250K in debt; young vets graduate with an average debt of "only" $107K, but starting salaries are also a lot less for vets than for docs. When med or vet students graduate with that much debt, they can't afford to take a realtively low-paying job in Arlington or Bison, not if they want to get free and clear of that starting debt so they can buy a house and start a family.

I guess we could let the free market decide that 64 out of South Dakota's 66 counties just aren't worth having veterinarians or doctors. Or we could take some of that bailout money and use it to stimulate the rural economy.

How about this: declare medical and veterinary work to be national service. Fund an expansion of veterinary and medical schools at universities in rural areas (note to my neighbor Gerry Lange: let's see that bill of yours for a vet school at SDSU on January's agenda!). Forgive new vets' and docs' student debt, or at least give them zero-interest loans. Let's keep the rural economy healthy!


  1. Since my son is a vet, I have a few ideas on this.

    When he went to ISU, SD had eight slots at ISU for SD vet students where the state would pick up the tuition tab. Not sure how this works now. I know the state is supposedly out of money, but maybe, just maybe, investing in the out-of-state tuition for LARGE animal vets would be a great investment in SD ag. Make these tuition-paid slots available only for large animal vets (now it goes strictly on GPA and class rank and sometimes even to students who aren't actually from SD), or else fund all out-of- state tuition for all vet students. This is probably still cheaper than having our own vet school.

    Another idea is having communities pay the tuition for a vet student on condition that student return and practice in that community at least one year for every year they paid his/her tuition.

    More women than men are going into vet medicine, and they generally prefer small animal vetting. Also, small animal vets make more money and practice in safer, cleaner conditions than large animal vets.

    Another problem is the job market for the spouse. Many small communities do not offer job opportunities for a probably well educated spouse of a vet.

    SD's economy is still very large animal ag based, and it behooves the state to address this problem in order to preserve the ag economy.

    Maybe having our own vet school would help with the problem, I don't know. The USD medical school was founded because of SD's doctor shortage, and it has helped. Maybe our own vet school would too. But it would be a huge expense. I think it might be better to offer tuition assistance/forgiveness instead for large animal vets only.

  2. Here I go, throwing monkey wrenches your way again.

    If we forgive some student loans, won't that create resentment among other students who have received loans but do not get such relief? Won't they cry out, "Why that vet or that doctor, and not me?"?

    Maybe we could declare that all student loans (regardless of discipline) henceforth should be at zero interest, and eliminate any future interest payments on outstanding student loans now. If we do that here in South Dakota, it might attract some bright people to our state who otherwise would not give us a thought.

    Maybe we could reduce or forgive the loans of doctors and vets willing to spend at least a certain number of years in a "rural area," however that term might be defined. (Actually that's Anon 9:31's idea, somewhat expanded.)

    But forgive loans straightaway? Just bail 'em out as if the money supply were infinite?

    Will forgiving student loans create in our young people the idea that a loan and a grant are equivalent, to their later consternation when they discover that mortgage companies (if they still exist) will not let them go so easily? Won't we be setting our young people up for a lifetime of fiscal irresponsibility even worse than that of our own generation?

  3. There was talk awhile ago of forgiving part of teacher loans if they would teach in underserved areas. Did that ever happen, or was it just an idea?

    I wasn't advocating forgiving all vet student loans. Just helping with some of the debt by those who would benefit from the services of said vet in rural areas. Sort of a quid pro quo.

    Or to encourage more large animal vets, more state help with tuition for students going into large animal work, which benefits the economy of the state as a whole. There is some state help now, but it isn't targeted to large animal, just based on GPA and not evn necessarily SD state residency.

  4. You identify a crucial point, Stan. Various folks, including me, have been asking from the beginning of the bailouts "Why X and not Y? Why anyone?"

    It would seem that forgiving loans for any sector of the economy runs the risk of reinforcing fiscal responsibility. Maybe that danger is greatest with or youngest borrowers... though it seems backwards to say we should be harder on college students than on experienced investors who really ought to know better.

    The Old Testament thought occasional debt forgiveness for everyone was a good thing (remember the Jubilee?). Maybe we should take the Biblical tack and call off all debts instead of trying picking and choosing. But until then, if the Treasury is going to open the trough, and if they're only going to let a few select pigs in, then all of us, hogs and runts alike, might as well make our case for getting our share of the slop.

  5. Well, Cory, if we had a jubilee of this sort, it would certainly provide an economic stimulus! (It would also, I fear, trigger a round of hyperinflation.) But the jubilee would have to be followed by a multifaceted revolution in the way everyone does business. I'm no economist, but I would suggest that the following ideas be considered.

    (1) It should be made clear that this will be the one and only jubilee that anyone can expect within their lifetime. No more pigs trampling each other on the way to the slop trough.

    (2) Usury should be banned, even if it takes a constitutional amendment to do it. Interest rates for loans and mortgages should be low or zero. The Fed should maintain its power to control inflation, however, by adjusting interest rates among corporations and banks.

    (3) Credit should be extended only to those who meet strict but fairly administered qualifications.

    (4) Interest rates on savings accounts and IRAs should be higher than loan interest rates to encourage savings while not discouraging people from making large purchases in a responsible way.

    (5) The income tax system should be made more progressive, with a higher individual exemption, and a stiff surtax on obscenely high salaries, benefits, and bonuses (say, $20,000,000 or more in total compensation per year).

    (6) The income "cap" on the Social Security payroll tax should be eliminated, and the rate adjusted (perhaps lowered), to provide the additional revenue necessary for a single-payer universal health care system.

    (7) A constitutional amendment should be drafted to make a national value-added tax (VAT) illegal, for it is regressive and tends to inflict its burdens in a grossly disproportionate way.

    (8) A goal should be set to eliminate the national debt by the end of Barack Obama's second term as President.

    (9) A goal should be set to make the U.S. energy independent by the end of Barack Obama's second term as President.

    (10) When the national debt has been eliminated in 2017, a constitutional amendment should be drafted to the effect that the budget be balanced in each and every year, with possible exceptions for "national catastrophes" to be decided upon by a 2/3 majority vote of both houses of the legislature.

    (11) A constitutional amendment should be drafted to the effect that the U.S. should become an net energy exporter starting in the year 2017.

    (12) Our immigration laws should be made more liberal to expand the work force, but the new laws should be strictly and rigorously enforced.

    (13) A world summit should be convened every year to address issues such as climate change, poverty, and in particular, overpopulation.

    (14) Stan Gibilisco should go register as an independent, because the above list sure doesn't make him look very much like a Republican.

  6. (1) The Bible says they did it every 50 years. Is that enough gap?

    (5) Hear hear!

    (8) !!! Talk about setting the bar high!

    (14) When you get done switching your registration, Stan, send these ideas to the transition team at Change.Gov! They might offer you a job!

  7. I am a current Vet student in MN, originally from MN, but I have every intention of going back to SD (I did my undergrad at SDSU) to practice large animal medicine. Maybe the state should adopt a program of paying a certain percentage of the loans back for the new vet, as long as the new vet signs a contract agreeing to parctice in rural SD for x number of years. I, personally, would be more than happy to sign that contract!

  8. We'll take you, Anon! I'm sure there'll be jobs... I just hope we can get the wages up to make it worth your while! Any idea how long it will take you to pay off your vet school debt?

  9. Just wanted to give some current information on the veterinary student loan debt after graduating. I am a 2006 DVM. My student loan debt started very close to $300,000 this does include almost $60,000 undergraduate loans. Most of these are in a 30 year repayment plan. My current salary is $ 75,000. Most of my classmates are in the same boat. Not sure where the we have less student lona debt then MD's came from.


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