by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D. | Student photo by Henry Moore Jr.
Beth Davidow has seen a lot of changes to the veterinary profession since she graduated from Cornell nearly 25 years ago. But the biggest change, she says, is the amount of debt today’s veterinary students carry when they graduate.
“Many of us had debt in 1995, but it is not like it is today,” says Davidow. “It is about four times more now.”
For the WSU veterinary class of 2018, the median debt was nearly $112,000. And that, says Davidow, puts students behind the eight-ball from the time they graduate.
“New veterinarians coming out of school won’t be able to have the same opportunities I did,” she says.
Changing landscape of veterinary clinic ownership
During her last year of veterinary school, Davidow came to Seattle for an externship at the Woodland Park Zoo. She fell in love with the city. When her husband got a post-doctoral fellowship with National Marine Fisheries Service the next year, moving to Seattle permanently was an easy decision.
“At the time I wanted to be a mixed animal practitioner,” she says. “I ended up working in a small animal and exotic practice and then started picking up shifts in an emergency clinic. Turns out I am an adrenaline junkie, and I switched to ER full time in 1996.”
By 2003, less than 10 years after graduation, she and a colleague were able to buy their own practice. Davidow says that opportunity is less likely for today’s veterinarians.
“When I graduated there was a lot of opportunity in Seattle for ownership,” she says. “Now 75% of the emergency hospitals in Seattle and an increasing number of primary care practices are owned by large non-veterinary groups. And with a large debt load, students find it harder buy a practice of their own.”
Because students may not be in the position to buy practices even within 10 years after graduation, the impacts ripple out to retiring veterinarians who are ready to sell their practices. She believes the revived success of independent bookstores, seen around the country, could also continue with independently owned veterinary clinics. But for that to happen, she says students need to graduate with less debt. One part of the solution? Student scholarships.
Investing in the future
After she sold her practice, Davidow found herself in a financial position she never expected. And knowing that it would be difficult for students to have the same opportunities she did straight out of veterinary school, she wanted to make a difference.
She and her husband, Mike Ford, created the Beth Davidow and Mike Ford DVM Student Scholarship at WSU because she wanted to give where she felt she would make the biggest difference.
“The money goes further at a state school like WSU which is still a good value for students, so it can make more of an impact,” she says. And with her strong ties to Washington state, it was the perfect fit. “Washington is my adopted state. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else.”
The first scholarship was awarded in the spring of 2019 to Josh Ragasa (’22 DVM) who plans to practice mixed animal veterinarian medicine with a special interest in exotics in Hawaii or Washington.
“It is an honor to be chosen as the very first recipient of the Beth Davidow and Mike Ford DVM Student Scholarship,” says Ragasa. “As a first-generation Filipino-American college student from Hawaii, this scholarship means a lot to me and it will help fund my education and allow me to obtain my doctorate in veterinary medicine.”
Davidow says she encourages others who have done well in their careers and sold their veterinary practices to pay it forward and help students have the same opportunities that they did when they first graduated as new veterinarians.
And knowing that they are making it easier for just one student each through this scholarship means a lot to Davidow. “If I can help in even a small way so a student can have some of the opportunities I had, then we know we’ve made a difference.”