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Oct. 13, 2016

Restructuring veterinary medicine to reduce student debt/stress

The financial and emotional costs of becoming a veterinarian are extremely high, but the profession’s starting salaries often don’t match up to this burden.

In an effort to reduce debt loads and enhance student success and wellness, Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is the first in the nation to begin restructuring its curriculum.

“The veterinary medicine profession and education are at a critical juncture,” said Julie Funk, associate dean for academic programs and student affairs, MSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “Student debt rates are creating a tremendous burden for students, so we have to reinvent how we educate our students to ensure their success and well-being.”

In 2015, mean starting salaries for veterinarians were in the range of $70,000. The goal is to reduce the student debt to salary ratio from the current 2.2:1 ratio for in-state tuition to 1.4:1.

The college is considering a number of ways to accomplish this including shortening the time of getting a degree while still preparing the graduates to be career ready and highly valued, something the program is recognized for across the country. The new learner-centered curriculum will also promote wellness because it will include more opportunities for applied educational experiences and personal and professional development for students and faculty.

“MSU doctor of veterinary medicine graduates have always been exceptionally well prepared,” Funk said. “They graduate with the skills and knowledge to practice on all species, but in reality, many don’t spend their careers caring for all species. Why should we teach them to be experts about pigs if their desire is to care for cats and dogs? We want to allow students more flexibility to align their studies with their career interests and for them to be well-prepared to pass the board exam.”

Helping the college reinvent its curriculum is MSU’s new Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. The Hub works with stakeholders both inside and outside of MSU to create, identify and accelerate new ways to collaborate, learn, research and deliver instruction.

The Hub is partnering with the veterinary medicine college throughout the process from facilitating initial design thinking on through research, curriculum development and revision, and teacher professional learning.

“Supporting the innovation work of the College of Veterinary Medicine is important for the Hub and the entire university,” said Jeff Grabill, director of the Hub and associate provost for teaching, learning and technology. “They are creating a culture in which students, faculty and staff can thrive. That is a high bar and it's the right bar to set. Their success will be a necessary model for veterinary medicine and for MSU.”

“The Hub has helped us make curriculum revision an inclusive and accelerated process, with faculty, staff and students playing key roles,” Funk said. “Their approach has helped faculty understand the need for curriculum revision.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine has set an ambitious deadline to have the new curriculum developed by the spring of 2017 and ready for implementation at the start of the fall semester 2018.

“The sooner, the better,” Funk said. “We refuse to close our eyes, cross our fingers and hope that veterinary medical education will change. We intend to take care of our students, ensure their success and set a national example for veterinary medical education.

Veterinary Medicine Facts and Figures:*

• As a whole, U.S. veterinary students accumulate $750 million in educational debt each year to pay $650 million in tuition.

• The 2016/17 MSU College of Veterinary Medicine tuition for in-state students is $29,804.

• In 2015, mean starting salaries for veterinarians were in the range of $70,000.

• Veterinarians face singular challenges in their jobs and the rates of suicide and depression are unusually high among U.S. veterinarians.

• The average veterinarian completes 4 ½ years of undergraduate education and four years in veterinary school.

• In order to practice veterinary medicine on animal patients, doctors must be licensed in each state in which they practice.

*Sources: American Veterinary Medical Association; Michigan State University

By: Kim Ward