Strategies for Thriving – Even with Student Debt

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Whether you’re a recent graduate yourself – or just their employer – you know that newly minted veterinarians emerge into the world with debt problems. Just how big a problem, and how much worse it’s getting, is easy to see from this chart, using private practice incomes only. It’s even worse if you factor in internships or further education after graduation:

The metric in this case is the educational debt-to-annual income ratio; it’s easier to calculate than the back-end ratios which are used to assess your ability to secure a mortgage. The standard ranges from ideal (0.5) to marginal (1.5). We’re past 2.1 for those in full-time employment, and still accelerating.

The solutions proposed are complex and may not be particularly helpful if you already borrowed heavily in school. There are, however, a few things you can do right now that can help your personal situation:

  • Make sure you have a pro-sal contract – this type of pay scheme transfers some of the financial risk from the employer to the employee, but it also puts you more in control of your destiny. If you can increase your billing – and you can – you can increase your income all by yourself.
  • Understand your fee structure – you can’t maximize your billings if you don’t know how your practice charges, and are comfortable discussing the cost of care.
  • Hone your communication skills – unlike your professors in school, clients aren’t grading you by how much information you can spew in the shortest span of time. They want to know much you care, they want reassurance and they need to trust you. These are hard clinical skills and they can be learned. Once you’ve establish trust, clients are much more willing to follow your recommendations and allow you to provide more services.
  • Make your work more valuable – clients are willing to pay higher fees for procedures and complex medical cases. Make sure that you develop your routine surgical and dental abilities as well as your internal medicine skills. Building up your confidence in recommending and then providing those services will pay financial dividends.
  • Work more – time is money. There’s no question you should work smarter, but the surest way to increase your income in clinical practice is to see more patients. That may mean signing up for more evening hours, or emergency shifts or weekends, or using as simple a strategy as getting in early, staying late, or being available through lunch. I know this isn’t what Millennials say they want – they want quality of life – but they didn’t want all this debt, either.
  • Consider demography – there is more opportunity in some places than in others. Relocating can be a complex decision, but it can affect what you can earn.

If you can’t wait for the education debt problem to be solved by others, take charge of your earning potential. You can’t do much about the educational debt you carry at graduation, but you do have more control over the income part than you think.

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