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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.


  1. Great post - and this is one of the reasons why most men are no longer considering it as a career. Better return for the work to do other careers..
    Sad but true.

  2. Interesting Post-

    I'm currently applying to vet school in the UK as an undergraduate. I have my interview at Cambridge on Monday eek! It is much cheaper here, but also more competative. Since the majority of vet students are undergraduates (the course is 5 years/6 at cambridge) we only have to pay £3100ish a year for tuition fees and then on top of that living costs however you can get a student loan to cover that.
    The competition is scary, for example at Bristol, its 1300 for 100 places and at Nottingham its even steeper odds. I think this is mainly becuase we only have 7 vet schools.
    I don't think one chooses to go into veterinary medicine for the salary (obviously it would be naive to disregard it all together, you still need to survive) but instead for an interesting lifestyle.
    Keep up the good work!


  3. wow i'm insanely jealous of those students graduating with an average of 80K in debt. i'm paying international fees and if i will probably graduate with $350K in debt.

    there's no hope for me, is there?

  4. Wow, $350k in debt. Yeah, that's pretty harsh, and far beyond what I've heard as even the common upper limits. Best of luck to you! Hopefully you'll be able to pay that back before you die.

    I was wondering if some international readers would chime in on this, as I was curious what conditions are outside of the US. Thanks for posting, OllyUK. Yes, I think we all know the financial realities before we go to school, but it's also a real eye-opener when the truth hits after graduating. And yes, I don't think any of us go into the profession for the salary. Though it wouldn't be bad to get paid for what our education is really worth. :)

  5. I linked back to you - :)


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