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Monday, May 18, 2015

Veterinary Medicine: A Poor Return On Investment

I know I seem like a downer on my profession at times.  And it may seem like I'm discouraging people from becoming a vet.  In some ways I probably am.  But my real intent is to make sure that people are going into vet school fully aware of the challenges they face in the future.  It's one thing to say "yeah, I know I won't get paid much but I love what I do."  It's another thing to struggle to pay bills because your loan payments are so high that they eat up most of your paycheck.
Here's some data from a study recently published (February 2015) in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  I apologize for the poor quality of the image, but it's pretty revealing.

Since it's a bit fuzzy, I'll summarize the findings.  These numbers are for students who entered veterinary college in 2014.  The most interesting numbers to me are the Return On Investment (ROI) and the breakeven age. 
For the ROI, imagine it as if you took the money you spent on vet school and invested it.  If your ROI is positive, you made money and came out better.  If it's negative, you lost money and it was a poor investment.  For all students combined it's kind of a wash (-0.4% for females, +0.45 for males).  Working in the large animal field is consistently a negative ROI, while working in industry and acedemia is consistently positive.
The breakeven age is the age at which you've finally paid for all of the time and investment in education and early practice, esssentially breaking even.  If you look at the numbers you can see that as a whole you're not going to break even as a vet until you are close to retirement age.
If you look only at the numbers, becoming a vet is a pretty poor choice.  You could make a higher salary and invest less time and money in numerous other professions.  Most vets are going to spend their entire lives and careers simply trying to keep their heads above water.
So why do it?  If all of this news is so bleak, why bother?
For some people, it may not be worth it.  You'd make more money by taking the average $150,000 debt load and invest it in the stock market.  But for many of us it goes beyond that.  We simply love animals and love the bond people have with them.  Much of our "pay" comes from the things that don't bring in more salary or generate revenue.  Puppy kisses, cat purrs, and grateful clients are a large part of our reward.  If that's enough for you and you can live with a lifetime of financial struggle, then you might consider becoming a vet.