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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Salary Up, So Is Debt

Every year the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association publishes a study of salaries, employment and debt among American veterinarians.  This year there was some mixed news.  On one hand, starting salaries were up from 2008.  Across all vets, the increase was 0.7%, with an average starting salary of a little under $49,000 annually.  When looking at those employed solely at private practices the increase was a more noticeable 6%.  Pretty good news!  Vets are very underpaid for their knowledge and skills, so it's nice to see the salaries increasing for new graduates.

However, there is a fair bit of bad news with this.  The amount of debt incurred in acquiring this education and training rose by 8%.  Yes, salaries grew, but debt grew by a greater margin.  This more than erases the salary increase, and puts more hardship on new graduates.  A new veterinarian begins their career with just over $129,000 in debt.  That's a pretty big burden on veterinarians.

I don't know that anyone has a good solution to the problem.  Vet salaries still lag behind the amount of debt we acquire, and we have the worst debt-to-income ratio of any doctor.  With universities having their funding cut due to state budget constraints, the cost of education isn't going to get any better.  To further raise salaries we would have to increase the cost of veterinary medical care, charging more for our services.  Prices can only go so far before people stop coming in, especially in tight economies like all of us are going through world-wide.

Anyone who wants to enter this profession needs to know what they're getting into and what their prospects are.  And our clients need to know that it costs a LOT of money to become a vet, and we're often scraping by as much as they are.