Tag Archives: finances

Effectively Manage the Transition Between Positions

Moving on from one step of your professional life to the next is exciting!  You’re going forward, pursuing your passion, hopefully at an institution you like.  There is invariably down time between positions and there are important Work and Life details you need to take care of.  We are in the middle of a move as I write this, which is both exciting and scary. Here are some suggestions to help you make these transitions less scary, specifically with regards to Time, Housing, Moving, Insurance, and Licenses.

Time

Between undergrad and vet school you have at least a whole summer, between vet school and internship at least a month and possibly more, between internship and residency a couple of weeks or more, and between residency and faculty position as much or as little time as you like.

Between undergrad and vet school, work or travel.  There’s not much point in trying to prepare for vet school- that’s what vet school is for.

Between vet school and internship, travel or, if they’ll have you, stay on at the institution from which you graduated.  I spent an additional 3 weeks after graduation hanging around the surgery service acting as a super senior or a junior intern, depending on your perspective.  It was a great experience and helped prepare me for my role as an intern.

Between internship and residency, study.  The more you know about your discipline before you start, the better off you will be.  Of course, they’ll teach you what you need to know during your program, but the faster you get up to speed, the more you will learn.  I read the Vet Clinics of North America issue on anesthesia as well as Physiology and Pharmacology in Anesthetic Practice and it was tremendously helpful.

Between residency and faculty, travel.  You already know enough to be an entry-level specialist, and you can’t do any meaningful work in the amount of time you have.  You will rarely be so unencumbered as you are once you finish your residency. I have _never_ been able to travel between positions and I wish that I had.

Housing

Once you know where you are going, you need to secure housing.  This can be challenging in some college towns. For example, in Athens, if you didn’t have a place secured by April, you would be getting the scraps, and people who want the best places secure their lease in February.  In contrast, in Phoenix, you can show up whenever and get almost any apartment you want. I encourage you to live within walking distance of the institution if at all possible. If you can also walk to the market and the pub, all the better.  I like using Google Maps, Apartments.com, and Zillow to find places which would be a good fit.

Hopefully the lease of your current place is ending close to when you will be moving.  If you need an extra week or two, you can always ask your landlord. In some place, such as Athens, this will be problematic- almost every lease turns over July 31st- but you can at least ask.  If you need to leave your lease early, notify them as soon as possible and just pay the fee. In the best-case scenario, your current lease ends the day after you pack everything up and move out.

Moving

Use this opportunity to REDUCE YOUR SHIT.  I am really serious about this. I showed up for my residency with two duffel bags and that is it.  When we left Athens, we gave away almost everything in our 2400-square foot house and it was WONDERFUL.  I assure you, your life will be so much better with less stuff. Particularly when you go to an internship- it’s only for a year.  Do you really want to be schlepping all of this stuff all over the country? No. Get rid of it. Donate it to friends, charity, or sell it on Craigslist.  You may NOT rent a storage unit because that is the height of ridiculousness.

Once you have less stuff, your options for moving are: DIY, hire help, or a combination of the two.  I have never heard a story of hiring a company to move things which ends well. So, in general, I would advise not hiring a moving company entirely.  To load your shipping device, you can get friends to help or hire local movers. We have had great success hiring local movers– they are relatively inexpensive, fast, and professional.

For shipping, you can rent your own truck (like a U-Haul and other competitors) or a device which someone else drives (PODS or U-Pack).  After driving a U-Haul for 2000 miles along I-40, I decided my life was worth more than I was saving by driving myself. Plus the gas cost was incredible.  Hiring U-Pack was about the same price as renting a U-Haul for a one-way trip, and was much less stressful.

Insurance

What happens if you get into a car accident when driving to your new home?  What if something catastrophic happens to your stuff in transit? How do you handle renter’s insurance?  Do you have to re-insure your car in your new state?

Let’s start with health insurance.  You should check with your current position about when your coverage ends.  Does coverage end on your last day or the end of the month? In any event, you should have an option to enroll in COBRA, which allows you to extend coverage.  This extension should be enough time to cover you until your next position coverage starts. If you can’t get COBRA, you may need to research individual coverage for the gap time.

Stuff insurance.  Why do you even have this?  Do you own something besides a house or car worth more than $1000?  Why? You already downsized your stuff, so you shouldn’t need insurance for it.  If it all goes up in a fireball, that would be sad but not catastrophic. You can pack any small, expensive items (instruments, computer, guns, etc.) in the car you personally drive.

Renter’s insurance is straight up absurd.  Why the hell should the apartment owners care if we have insurance to cover our very own stuff?  I’m not going to sue them if I get broken into. I wish I could opt out of this, but, unfortunately, in a lot of towns, this is required.  It is relatively inexpensive so, if you need to get it, find the cheapest policy that satisfies the rental company. Alternatively, several times now I have convinced the rental companies that my umbrella liability policy is sufficient.  I strongly recommend umbrella insurance for everyone so, if you have it, you may not need separate renter’s insurance.

Car insurance coverage is generally dependent on the zip code where the car is garaged.  Obviously, the insurance company doesn’t know when you move. But, if you get into an accident, they may make a fuss about it.  I would recommend talking to your insurance company/agent about this when you are researching moving.

Licenses

You will need a license to practice veterinary medicine wherever you go after graduation.  Some states have arrangements where you can get a ‘faculty license’, which has pretty minimal requirements for someone working at a university.  Many places have a single point person to help facilitate this. Figure out the license situation before you leave for your new position.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in moving to a new position.  To keep it simple, follow these rules: reduce your stuff, make a plan ahead of time, don’t leave anything to the last minute.  The sooner you figure things out, the less stressful the actual move will be.

Should you Do a 4-Year Residency?

Ridiculous switchbacks at Angel’s Landing in Zion remind me of the path to residency.

Most residencies in veterinary medicine are three years, with a handful of two-year programs out there for some specialties.  In recent years, the four-year residency has become more common. This is typically a residency in a highly competitive specialty, such as surgery.  In effect, the institution is getting you for an extra year for very little pay- they get a reasonably competent specialist for resident pay as opposed to faculty pay.  The advantage for the applicant is that a 4-year residency may be less competitive, because some applicants are not willing to sacrifice another year of their life for low pay and delaying their career.  So the rub is, should you apply for a four year program?

The principle advantage of pursuing a four-year program is that there are fewer applicants for such programs than for three-year programs.  So, you may be more likely to be accepted into one than into a three year program. The consequences are that you have another year as a resident, instead of getting to start your career as a specialist.  You delay moving to your next destination. Maybe you delay finding relationships (romantic and fraternal). You delay earning Real Money. If you are fanatically dedicated to the discipline and don’t care about the consequences to your life and career, a four-year program may be acceptable.

The disadvantage of a four-year program is primarily time.  In a three-year program, you would be done and then earning a decent salary by your ‘fourth’ year.  You would also be considered a specialist, and able to apply for private practice or university positions.  A four year position is adding 33% of your residency time to your life timeline. Another year may not seem like much now, but you will never get that year back.

Ultimately, four-year residencies are designed to take advantage of the competitiveness of some disciplines and take advantage of those applicants who are desperate.  The institutions get a year of low-cost high-skilled labor from your fourth year. You get a residency you may not have otherwise gotten. It’s a difficult balance and exemplifies the principles of capitalism: a balance between supply and demand.  What you need to ask yourself is: Are you willing to be inexpensive labor for a year in order to get a residency?

How to Manage Student Loans

The Vetducator - CPI vs home prices vs. tuition costs graph.

Higher education has become incredibly expensive.  There are many reasons for this, including expanding administrator numbers and salaries, declining state support, schools expanding offerings to compete for paying clients (students), and a bubble for student loans.  Regardless, you want to go to vet school (or are in vet school) and need to figure out how to pay for it.  Assuming you do not have sufficient funds on your own or from your family, you may need to borrow money. Here are some considerations and strategies to minimize the amount you have to borrow, so you can be as free as possible once you graduate.

School Choice.  You want to attend your local state school if at all possible.  Don’t go in for expensive out-of-state, out-of-country, or private schools.  This is one of the most important decisions you can make with respect to your financial future.  Attend the least expensive school you can.

Frugal Living.  I know one vet who bought a brand new car during vet school and just added it to his student loans, which totaled more than $200k by graduation.  That is unacceptable.  You need to live a frugal life- which does not mean a life devoid of all pleasures.  Believe it or not, you can have a great life without spending more than all the money you have.  And you can get a great education at a fair price.

Avoid Interest.  When it is working for you, compound interest is amazing.  However, if you are taking out a loan you have to pay back, compound interest is the worst.  You need to make sure loans you take minimize your interest as much as possible. Ideally, you should find loans which have the interest taken care of.  If you take loans which immediately begin to accumulate interest, you will be much worse off after four years in vet school. Maybe even family can give you low-interest loans.  Whatever you can do to minimize accruing interest you should do.

Is it still worth it, economically, to go to vet school?  It depends a lot on where you go to school, how you live, and what types of loans you take out.  If you go to a private school or out-of-state school, live high on the hog and take out interest-bearing loans, you could find yourself $300k in debt with poor prospects- especially if the economy turns south.  Maybe you could be just as happy doing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry?  If you insist on going to vet school, be mindful of your decisions and how they affect your future freedom.  And for god’s sake don’t buy a new car in vet school.

You Can Live a Lavish Life on an Academic Salary

No, you can’t buy this ridiculous vehicle. You shouldn’t on ANY salary.

One of the most common complaints I hear about academia is that the salary is lower than private practice, sometimes substantially lower.  While this is factually correct, I have never understood this argument. Most academic specialists make at least $100k a year, sometimes quite a bit more, which is way more than you need.  Then there are the benefits, which are almost always better in academia than in private practice.  The opportunity to earn a PENSION? This is guaranteed money for the rest of your life once you retire.  I have never heard of anyone getting a pension from private practice, no matter how large the company.

If you calculate the value of the benefits, academia pays much more than the cash salary you earn.  I’ve heard some practices don’t chip in for health insurance or retirement- that is HUGE! So it’s hard to compare private practice apples to academia oranges. In addition, many academic institutions give you consulting time, which is time off during which you can go locum elsewhere and make more money.  Unless you have a chronic illness which continually drains your resources, academia pays enough. Even if you have huge student loans. Let’s look at how.

Let’s assume you make $100k a year as an academic- a pretty low salary for any specialist.  This puts you in the 24% marginal tax rate. With social security, health insurance, and other cuts taken out, let’s say this leaves you with $5000 a month in take-home after-tax after-benefit pay.  Now let’s break down expenses for a single person without roommates. This is a pretty free-wheeling estimate since this isn’t a personal finance blog, but it will serve as an illustration.

ExpenseAmount/Month
Mortgage ($200k house @ 4%)$950
Property taxes & insurance$200
Groceries$500
Transportation (gas, taxes, etc.)$400
Eating Out$100
Utilities (power, internet, etc.)$150
Cell Phone$50
Clothes, household items$100
Misc$200
TOTAL$2,650
SAVINGS$2,350

There are several assumptions made in these calculations.  Houses in most college towns are inexpensive (apologies if you decided to take a job at UC Davis).  Transportation is based off a 10-minute commute- college towns are usually small. You could dramatically cut your transportation costs by living in biking or walking distance to work.  You can increase your income by getting a roommate, dramatically offsetting your housing costs. Even if you have high student loans, you can pay them off in a few years and begin saving for retirement with this salary.

Maybe all of this sounds like deprivation to you.  Maybe you want to buy a huge house, drive an expensive car, and eat out every night.  But… do you really? Is that what will make you happy? Because the science for this is NOT on your side.  The science says the paths to real, meaningful happiness are through the purposeful life and the meaningful life, not the hedonic life.  And this is NOT a deprivation lifestyle. If you need more evidence, check out this blog which explains how you can have a great life without wasting tons of money.

So, there, if you want to have a nice quality of life as an educator or researcher or academic clinician, you can do so.  You have a flexible schedule, intellectual engagement, meaningful engagement (helping students AND animals AND clients), purposeful engagement (great flow during clinics or research or teaching), and you will make PLENTY OF MONEY.  OK, bring on the arguments in favor of making tons of money in private practice.

How to Choose a Veterinary School

The Vetducator image of vet school debt and satisfaction with value.

It’s the culmination of your lifelong dream- you are finally applying to vet school!  Congratulations! It is an exciting and scary time. You are starting to make substantial decisions which will affect your life and career.  Some people may fret over where to apply to vet school. Fortunately, it’s a surprisingly simple decision-making matrix.

Is there a state school where you live?  If yes, apply there. You do not want to pay more for your educational than absolutely necessary.  Your in-state school is probably the least expensive option.

If there is not a state school, does your state participate in a cooperative program with another vet school, such as Delaware with Georgia or WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher education) with several western schools?  If yes, apply to the associated school.

Is there something odd about your application that may make it difficult to get into your state school?  If yes, you may apply to out-of-state schools, private schools, and overseas schools. Realize that the tremendous financial cost of these options may be a monkey on your back for most of your life.

That’s it.  There’s no consideration of ranking.  You know what they call the person who graduated from the bottom-ranked school in the country?  “Doctor”. You can get a good education anywhere and you can get a bad education anywhere- it is up to the individual student.  This isn’t law or politics. Your employer will not care from where you graduated. Keep your costs down. Graduate debt-free if possible.  Then enjoy your full, free life.