Associations between career choice and educational debt for fourth-year students of US veterinary schools and colleges, 2001–2021

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  • 1 Economics Division, AVMA, Schaumburg, IL
  • | 2 Marketing & Communications Division, AVMA, Schaumburg, IL



To determine whether career choice and starting salary of new DVM graduates in the US were associated with their educational debt accrued during veterinary school.


Up to 48,527 fourth-year students at US veterinary schools who responded to the AVMA Senior Survey in 2001 through 2021 and accepted a full-time position or advanced education opportunity.


To determine whether career choice was associated with educational debt, multiple linear regression was performed, controlling for graduation year, gender, age, marital status, having children, tuition level, and school location. The correlation between educational debt and starting salary was also determined.


On average, mean educational debt increased by $6,110 each successive year. A mean of 60.5% of respondents accepted positions in private practice (public practice, 3.3%; advanced education, 36.2%). Respondents choosing public practice had a mean of $24,913 less debt than those choosing advanced education, controlling for other factors. Respondents choosing public practice also had less debt than those choosing private practice, but debt did not differ significantly between private practice and advanced education. The correlation between educational debt and starting salary was significant but low (r = 0.177).


Findings suggested that the amount of debt incurred during veterinary school was associated with new veterinarians’ career paths. Notably, graduates with higher debt levels appeared to seek higher paying jobs or clinical training that might lead to higher paying jobs, leaving public practice—a field in which critical needs have been identified—underrepresented despite the availability of loan forgiveness programs and other incentives.

Contributor Notes

Corresponding author: Dr. Bain (