Three questions for … Erin Johnson, VBMA president at Mississippi State

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It seems fitting that our latest entry in the popular “Three Questions for …” series is a young woman who got an MBA under her belt before she started  at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Fitting, too, that Erin Johnson (Class of 2017) is VBMA president at Mississippi State.

Business and economics have never been a more important part of being a veterinarian, which is why we’ve been using our database to produce studies that help the veterinary community make informed decisions, both professionally and personally. Last year, we produced the VPI®-Veterinary Economics Financial Health study, and earlier this year we surprised a lot of people with the results of our inaugural Nationwide® | Purdue Veterinary Price Index. (Both of these studies are available for free downloading in the reference library section of this website — click on the link to the right for access. And there’s more to come!)

Nationwide/VPI isn’t the only one with an interest in looking at the economics of veterinary medicine, of course, which is why I wasn’t at all surprised this week when the AVMA announced that it was funding research in this area, including looking at such topics as pet health insurance and wellness plans.

We are handing a challenging world to the next generation of our colleagues. But I’m confident in them — and proud of them — as they equip themselves with the knowledge they need to navigate an ever-changing veterinary landscape. I’m proud of our efforts to help these students, too.

And with that, I give you Erin Johnson:

IMG_0718What drew you to veterinary medicine?

For as long as I can remember veterinary medicine has been the career path that I wanted to pursue. I was the typical animal-obsessed kid watching Steve Irwin and made more than one successful attempt to “sneak” in a pet or two into my home (thanks Mom and Dad). As I grew older, I became more passionate about my career aspiration because I have a love for science, problem-solving, and am very much a “people person”. As I gained experience  prior to applying to school, I realized that I loved interacting with clients tremendously and enjoy seeing the human-animal bond. I also discovered the many different career paths a veterinarian can choose or transition to, and that all of them can be stimulating and challenging.

Do you think new veterinarians will face different challenges than in previous generations and if so, what are you doing now to meet those challenges?

Absolutely! There are a lot of opportunities for new graduates to work towards continually improving this profession. Veterinarians are playing a vital role in the One Health initiative, and are able to use the training they receive in zoonotic diseases to not only improve animal healthcare, but also global human health. We are also seeing improvements in animal welfare issues as well as working towards providing veterinary care to under-served and rural areas in the U.S. and worldwide.

With the positive steps we are seeing in the profession, there are still some opportunities for improvement. Student loan debt is at an all-time high for the profession and is not showing any signs of decline in the near future. Working towards a solution involves educating new graduates on how to manage the debt that they have accumulated and to make smart financial decisions. This is why organizations such as the VBMA have been so beneficial, as they expose graduates to business topics to ensure they are better prepared to handle scenarios such as financial planning, debt repayment, and contract negotiations. In addition to the loan burden, new schools are matriculating additional students and class sizes are increasing; however, job opportunities are not increasing to match the number of graduates.

Despite the opportunities for improvement, I feel that with careful planning and smart decision-making, veterinary medicine is a wonderful profession that offers many opportunities and is continuing to grow in the variety of positions that veterinarians can hold. I’m using the time now in school to network and to plan ahead so that I will be better prepared as a new graduate to face these challenges.

Can you tell us one thing about you that would surprise your future veterinary colleagues?

Despite always wanting to be a veterinarian, I actually worked in corporate business after graduating with my bachelor’s degree for six years and earned my M.B.A. in 2009.