Veterinary medicine is an economically stable profession, with a salary that tends to increase steadily with each year of practice. In addition to years of experience, other factors influencing a vet’s salary include type of practice, geographic location, and whether the vet is a partner or an associate.
Vets in their first year of practice can expect to earn a salary of approximately $60,000. A 2008 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association found some variations in starting salary based on area of specialization. Small animal exclusive vets started out with the highest average earnings of $64,744. Large animal exclusive vets started at $62,424. Mixed practice vets (large and small animal) started at $58,522. Equine vets started at $41,636.
The national median earnings for veterinarians was $82,040 in May 2010 according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Private practice vets had median earnings of $90,000 in a 2009 AVMA report. Veterinarians employed by the federal government averaged $93,398. Corporate veterinarians had the highest earnings with a median of over $140,000. Veterinarians in the armed forces had the lowest earnings with a median of $80,000.
Geography also plays a role in what a vet can expect to earn. Vets in major metropolitan areas tend to make more money, but one must also take into account the higher cost of living in these places. The five states with the highest earnings for veterinarians in 2010 were Connecticut, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware (mean earnings over $100K). The top paying metropolitan areas for veterinarians in 2010 were Port St. Lucie, FL; Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL; Newark, NJ; Dover, DE; Scranton, PA; Harrisonburg, VA; Santa Barbara, CA; Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT; San Antonio, TX; and Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ.
Partners and Associates
As would be expected, partners who own the practice have earnings that significantly outpace those of hired associates. A 2009 study by the AVMA found a $40,000 pay gap between practice owners and associates. Owners averaged $120,000 compared to $80,000 earned by associate employees. It should be taken into consideration that owners do have to bear significant additional expenses for the daily operation of the business (equipment purchases, clinic building rent or mortgage payment, insurance costs, etc). Owners also tend to work more hours on average than associates.
According to the AVMA the average veterinarian’s salary increases by nearly 6% each year, outpacing inflation and cost of living increases. While most veterinarians aren’t drawn to the career simply for the money, this is a very stable profession that has an excellent outlook for the future.
For more on the veterinary profession: Job Profile