AKC Veterinary Scholarship winners talk about their careers and their dogs.
By Mara Bovsun, Features Editor, AKC Publications
As the need for talented veterinarians continues to skyrocket, so does the price of their training. In the United States, one year at some veterinary schools can cost about $50,000.
“One of the major issues facing our profession is that current salaries are not keeping pace with student debt load,” says Jim Jackson, DVM, a veterinarian at Spring Oaks Animal Care Center, Deland, Florida. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that the mean student debt for veterinary-school graduates is roughly $120,000.
Most vets say the biggest challenge facing practitioners today is the income-to-debt ratio, which is greater than in any other medical profession. “You must truly be passionate about veterinary medicine to pursue a career in it,” says Leeah Chew, DVM, a theriogenology resident at the Virginia–Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
Learning to Love Mac and Cheese
To help promising future vets, the AKC established the Veterinary Student Scholarships. The program offers several annual grants, totaling $135,000. These include the Chairman’s, President’s, and Dr. Asa Mays awards of $15,000 each, as well as 20 AKC Companion Animal Recovery awards of $5,000 each. Jackson and Chew are former scholarship winners.
Courtesy Jim Jackson
For many recipients, these grants went a long way to closing the debt to income gap. Without the financial aid, Jackson says, “we would have incurred a great deal more educational debt than we did.” Jackson and his wife, also a veterinarian, managed to sail through their educations and establish careers without ending up mired in debt.
Frugality, Jackson insists, is the key. “My advice to current students is to minimize the amount of student loans you take by living cheaply during your schooling. Is cable TV or the latest cell phone a necessity? Do you need to go out to the bars with your buddies every weekend?” he says. “Apply for every scholarship you can. Eat macaroni and cheese. You will have plenty of time to enjoy the status and privileges of being a doctor after school.”
AKC scholarships are awarded to students with superb academic records, but that’s not all. How they spend their time outside the classroom carries substantial weight.
Courtesy Dr. Leeah Chew
Many former scholarship winners were active in dog sports before they chose their career path, and they continued after graduation. Chew, for example, became interested in dog shows 15 years ago, participating in companion events with an ILP Golden Retriever. After earning a CD and competing in Junior Showmanship, she decided to give conformation a whirl, bought a puppy from a good breeder, and handled him to his championship.
“Since then I’ve had multiple champions that also have obedience, rally, and field titles,” Chew says. “I own four dogs who have achieved the Versatility certificate offered by the Golden Retriever Club of America, for achieving titles in conformation, field, and performance venues.”
Several other scholarship winners remain active in AKC events. Many say their involvement in the fancy led them to their career specialty. “My future plans include entering private practice after completion of my residency,” says Chew, whose specialty is theriogenology, the branch of veterinary medicine that deals with reproduction. “Being involved in showing, training, and breeding purebred dogs has led me to want to pursue this aspect of veterinary medicine.”
Amanda Chrzanowski says her dogs inspired her to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. Her first, a German Shorthaired Pointer, brought her into the world of dog shows, in both the 4-H and the AKC. These early experiences led to an “addiction to dog shows,” and, with her Golden Retriever, Oakley, she has participated in conformation, obedience, agility, rally, and therapy-dog work.
Jackson remains active in AKC competition with his Weimaraners, Miles and Thor. “Miles has three qualifying scores toward his Junior Hunter title and two qualifying scores toward his Rally Novice title. Thor is a rescue, and we do not have an AKC number for him yet. Jackson, treasurer and hunt-test chair for the Timucuan Weimaraner Club of Florida, says his most exciting moment in dog sports was during a pointing-breed hunt test with his dog Spirit. “He had already qualified but continued to hunt and made a beautiful point at the base of a tree. I spent a significant time kicking the brush in front of him to try and make the bird he was pointing fly, but nothing happened. The judge soon rode up, pointed into the tree, and said, ‘Sir, always trust your dog.’ I looked to where the judge was pointing and saw a quail perched on a low branch. Lesson learned.”
Even when a career path veers away from canine health, dogs still can play an important role in the work of a veterinarian, as in the life of Bonner Wimberly, a 2006 graduate of Texas A&M University and past AKC Veterinary Scholarship winner. Wimberly, a Bernese Mountain Dog breeder-exhibitor, has chosen to start her career in equine medicine, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for dogs on the job. Her show dogs, Lilly and Iris, come to work with her each day, and she finds that they are excellent ambassadors for the breed and for purebred dogs in general. “There’s a vet clinic next door, and people are always coming over to talk about my dogs,” she says. “I get to talk about purebred dogs, and breeding for the right reasons, and showing for the right reasons. And my dogs are great representatives of purebred dogs.”
Established more than a decade ago, the Veterinary Student Scholarship program
is made possible through contributions
from AKC Companion Animal Recovery, Royal Canin, and the AKC Canine Health
Foundation. See more information here.