By Clay Jackson
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual Occupational Employment and Wages report stated that in 2016 veterinary medicine joined some other professions (medical doctors, attorneys, etc.) where half the earners pull in six-figure annual incomes.
While an annual mean salary of $100,560 for U.S. veterinarians seems like great news, especially considering the oft-reported average of $144,000 for veterinary student debt (American Veterinary Medical Association), statistics sometimes tell only half the story.
“Reaching the $100,000 mean salary threshold suggests that the public is more appropriately valuing the high levels of training, quality, expertise and service provided by the profession of veterinary medicine,” said Jeffrey Douglas, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges spokesman.
Increased salaries are “an important part of solving the challenging issue of educational debt,” Douglas said.
Although veterinary salaries are increasing, it’s a slow creep.
The same BLS report but from May 2015 lists a mean U.S. veterinary salary at $99,000, meaning that on average U.S. veterinarians got a $1,500 pay raise from 2015 to 2016.
However, adjusting for inflation, the 2016 mean veterinary salary buys the same as $99,545 did in 2015, meaning nationwide the bump was only about $500 in terms of buying power.
If the current $100,000 mean salary is adjusted for inflation for 2010, there’s a more than $9,000 inflationary gap in just a six-year span.
The cumulative inflation rate between the 2010 and 2016 BLS reports was about 10 percent, meaning that veterinarians would need an average take-home salary of roughly $110,000 just to keep pace with cost of living increases during the same period.
Some 54,000 of the roughly 108,000 veterinarians in the U.S. fall short of the Department of Labor’s $100,000 average salary, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported. (BLS estimates the total veterinarians at 67,650 but doesn’t account for those who are self-employed.)
Douglas pointed to evidence that people pursue a career in veterinary medicine for a variety of nonmonetary reasons, but admitted “higher average salaries are very important.”
“Public awareness of this recently published salary data should have a positive effect on prospective students considering careers in the profession, whether they choose to practice in suburban, urban or rural areas,” he said.
Other highlights from the Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016 report:
- At a $201,000-a-year average, Hawaii far and away pays its veterinarians better than any other state, but a CNBC report in 2016 listed Hawaii as the most expensive place in the U.S. to live, with the average home costing more than $900,000.
- Rounding out the top five states in highest annual veterinarian salaries are New Jersey at $128,000, New York at $123,000, Nevada at $121,000 and Massachusetts at $120,000; New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts also were at Nos. 10, 7 and 2, respectively, on CNBC’s most expensive states list.
- A significant disparity exists between urban and rural veterinarian salaries; for example, the average veterinarian salary in the 10 top-paying metropolitan areas were all north of $139,000 a year, while the mean annual salaries in rural enclaves such as Central Nebraska, North Texas and South Central Wisconsin were $61,470, $82,220 and $73,540, respectively, roughly half than their metropolitan counterparts.
- Several nonmetropolitan areas did pay well, including Piedmont North Carolina, Eastern Ohio and Southern Indiana, with mean annual salaries of $150,000, $140,640 and $131,000, respectively; the presence of large veterinary colleges (North Carolina State, Ohio State University, Purdue) in these regions may account for the higher salaries.
- Recruiter.com breaks down veterinarian salaries into public and private sectors and subdivides public into federal, state and local governments:
- The lowest federal and local public-sector veterinary salaries exceeded those in the private sector ($71,370 and $54,290 to $47,480).
- The highest average salaries are found in the private sector followed by local, state and federal ($144,550, $128,840, $115,850 and $106,370). In many cases, lower salaries might represent entry-level, first-time employment opportunities.
As of May, Glassdoor.com listed the current average salaries of veterinarians employed with some of the nationwide veterinary chains at $72,000 for Petco, $84,000 for Banfield and $87,000 for VCA.
While things are looking up for top earners, a lot still needs to change for veterinary medical college grads, rural veterinarians or those trying to pay off loans and survive on an entry-level salary.
Still, things are heading in a good direction for U.S. veterinarians.
“The AAVMC is very pleased to see the veterinary profession reach this milestone in mean professional salaries,” Douglas said.