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Friday, December 5, 2008

The Cost of Becoming a Vet

I frequently speak with people that thought of being a vet at one point or another. They love animals, and thought it would be great to have a job helping them. For whatever reason, they never followed up on that desire, their lives taking them down a different path. I'm not sure if they or many other people really understand just what it takes to be a vet.

Here in the US there are only 27 veterinary colleges. Out of 300 million people and 50 states, we don't have even one vet school per state. Each school accepts around 80-100 students per year, but receives 400-500 applications. That means you have around 5 people competing for each available slot. Pretty stiff competition! Good grades are a must, as well as some experience in the veterinary field.

Medical school of any kind is extremely difficult, with many long hours of study. When I attended vet school, I already had my Bachelor's and Master's degrees, and had published an article in a scientific journal. I had graduated high school with a 4.0 average (out of 4.0), and graduated college Cum Laude. All very high accomplishements. However, vet school royally kicked my tail, and was the hardest thing I had done before or have done since. I simply cannot describe the amount of blood, sweat, tears, and frustration it took to make it through those four years.

Besides the mental stress, there is a lot of financial investment. Costs of achieving a veterinary degree have been going up faster than just about any other type of education. Recent data from the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that the average debt load for newly graduated veterinarians is $80,000. There are houses you can buy for that price! Yet the average starting salary is currently $55,000-60,000. Remember that these are averages, so some have more debt load, and som start with a lower salary. Once you graduate as a vet, the large majority of your salary goes to repaying debt. This is actually a major problem in the US, with new vets finding it harder than ever to make ends meet, and not having the financial ability to start or buy into a practice. We have the highest debt-to-income ratio of any medical profession in the US! That means that we acquire the most debt in relation to our salaries of any other doctor, including physicians, dentists, and ophthalmologists. These low salaries compared to the amount of debt we repay makes it hard to survive for a new graduate.

Why do we go through so much time, trouble, and money when we get paid about 1/3 of a MD's salary? Well, it's sure not because we like working long, hard hours for much less than our education would suggest. And it's not because we expect to drive around in BMWs or Lexus sedans. We all know what we're getting into when we start vet school. We do it because we love animals and medicine. We have dreams to help animals and their families. And to most of us, that emotional and intellectual reward is greater than any financial one.

Still...I don't think any of us would mind a bit of a raise.