The veterinarian salary, while decent, should not be a primary motivator when pursuing this career. I have spent a number of hours shadowing at various clinics, and while speaking to one of the veterinarians she said to me, “You had better like this job; it has to be emotionally rewarding, because it isn’t very financially rewarding.” At the end of the day, we walked out to her car. As she drove away in her brand-new BMW, I decided that she was either lying, or her husband was pretty well off.
After that confusing event, I decided to see what the typical veterinarian salary was. On average, a veterinarian will make $93,250 a year. Compared to the national average income of $45,790, that is quite a bit of money. The national median pay for a veterinarian is about $82,040, but this will vary depending on where you work (source). Veterinarians in Connecticut make an average of $121,480 a year, while vets in Montana average $61,050 annually. This seems like a drastic difference, until you factor in cost of living. The high cost of living in Connecticut will eat up about $40,000 of that extra pay, leaving you with an average Veterinarian salary. Various companies will also pay more than others. National “chain” hospitals such as Banfield and VCA Antech will pay differently than smaller companies would. Veterinarians who have their own practice have the potential to earn more, yet carry the risk that any business carries: going out of business.
Your choice of workplace will make a drastic difference not only in your pay, but also in your career opportunities. While veterinarians seem to earn a sizable amount of money, the cost of education and licensing should also be taken into account.
The cost of the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination is $570 (source). You might also have to pay in order to obtain a state license, depending on your state. Then there is all the money you will owe for obtaining your DVM. On average, veterinarians owe about $63,000 in debt for each year of veterinary school (source). So, assuming you take an average four-year program, you’re looking at roughly $252,000 of student debt. This does not include your undergraduate studies, so add this on top of any other student debt you may have incurred. This is quite the chunk of money you will have to pay back, and it takes most veterinarians years to do so. Compared to the average income of all occupations, a veterinarian’s salary looks quite impressive. However, when you take into account the amount of schooling required, compared to your potential income in other fields with the same (or less) education, the veterinarian salary definitely pales in comparison.
Most master’s prepared medical professionals (advanced practice nurses), as well as professionals who hold an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) earn well over $100,000 annually. Even those who’ve earned a PhD in Education (the lowest paid major) are able to earn over $100,000 annually as college professors.
Thankfully, life satisfaction comes more from how we spend our time (and if that suits our personalities and skill sets) than it does from the size of our paychecks. Studies have shown that a $75,000 annual income is the magic number (source) when it comes to how much money we need to be happy. Anything beyond that, while nice, does not actually cause us to be happy. So, with that in mind, the veterinarian salary is “enough” to provide happiness, especially when you enjoy your day-to-day work.
The good news is that the job outlook for a veterinarian is growing! The rate of occupational growth is about 36% (source), which is significantly higher than the national growth average of 14%. This indicates an abundance of jobs, and that the number of opportunities in the field will continue to rise. It should be fairly easy to find and maintain a job in the veterinary field. This also means that you won’t be going to school for all those years and spending thousands of hard-earned dollars (or going hopelessly into debt) only to not be able to find a job. You might not start off driving a BMW; but if you keep track of your student debt and work in the right areas, you will be making an income large enough to “buy you happiness” and provide you with a fulfilling career.