The average veterinarian salary is around $100,000, but that number can vary by location, type of practice and more. Starting salaries for veterinarians can be much lower, which could be discouraging after the eight years of school typically required for the position. Even so, becoming a vet can be fulfilling and lucrative.
Read on to find out which factors impact salaries for veterinarians and how to decide if this career choice is worth the investment.
How much do veterinarians make?
When it comes to salary, working as a veterinarian is a lot like any other industry. You may earn more or less in this career field depending on where you live, how many years of experience you have and whether you own your own practice. The industry you work in as a veterinarian can also make a big impact, as well as whether you have a specialization.
Starting veterinarian salaries
Industry experience inevitably plays a role in starting veterinarian salaries. After all, having more experience in any field typically means that you can command higher wages and better benefits.
Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that the bottom 10 percent of veterinarians earn an average of $60,690. Meanwhile, the bottom 25 percent of earners report an average veterinarian salary of just $79,430.
Data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows similar trends, reporting that the average compensation for 2019 veterinarian school graduates worked out to $70,045 at last report, which was up from $65,983 in 2018.
Where you live also plays a huge role in how much you can earn in this career field, and that’s true whether we’re talking about starting veterinarian salaries or earnings for those with ample experience.
As an example, the following states reported the highest average veterinarian salaries in BLS data:
- New Jersey: $128,430.
- Maryland: $128,120.
- Washington, D.C.: $127,310.
- Rhode Island: $126,630.
- Oregon: $122,840.
Some metropolitan areas also boast considerably higher salaries for vets. As an example, veterinarians in the Houston, Texas, metropolitan area earn average wages of $169,220, and those in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, area earn $150,370. Other metropolitan areas with generous average salaries for veterinarians include:
- Akron, Ohio: $150,330.
- Ogden-Clearfield, Utah: $150,310.
- Modesto, California: $149,460.
- Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, North Carolina-South Carolina: $148,900.
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Washington, D.C.-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia: $146,900.
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida: $145,380.
- Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California: $145,140.
- Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas: $144,560.
Of course, you may wind up earning a lower salary if you live in an area with minimal demand or a lower cost of living. For example, veterinarians who live in the College Station, Texas, metropolitan area earn an average salary of just $73,040, and veterinarians in Manhattan, Kansas, earn just $61,520.
Type of practice
The type of practice you work in can also play a huge role in how much you can earn as a veterinarian, and this is true regardless of where you live. Figures from the BLS reveal the following average earnings for veterinarians nationwide in various settings:
- Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $89,900.
- State government, excluding schools and hospitals: $93,810.
- Support activities for animal production: $95,950.
- Federal executive branch: $97,370.
- Other personal services: $99,860.
- Social advocacy organizations: $101,250.
- Employment services: $112,600.
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $122,470.
- Management, scientific and technical consulting services: $126,000.
- Specialty hospitals: $154,310.
Is becoming a vet worth it?
While veterinary medicine can feel like a calling if you love animals, it’s still important to make sure that becoming a vet is worth it. After all, veterinary medicine programs are not cheap, and you have to pay for this advanced higher education after paying to earn a bachelor’s degree. You’ll want to pay special attention to the cost of becoming a vet if you’re relying on student loans to finish school.
According to the AVMA, high program costs mean that the average debt of veterinary graduates is typically around $150,000. However, more and more graduates are entering this profession with debt loads upward of $400,000.
The problem may also be getting worse. AMVA figures show that 10.7 percent of 2019 graduates left school with more than $300,000 in student loan debt, compared to less than 1 percent before 2013.
Spending eight years or more in college can also leave you out of the workforce longer, which means that you could be stuck playing “catch up” when it comes to reaching financial milestones like paying off your student loans or buying a home.
Before you enter the field of veterinary medicine, it’s crucial to make sure that you understand the high costs of higher education as well as the opportunity cost involved in spending so many years in college. Earning a high salary can help you when it comes to offsetting student loan payments, but it’s important that you love your job even with a potentially lower starting salary.
The bottom line
The salary range for veterinarians is broad, but which is why it’s good to consider the return on investment involved in earning a veterinary degree, as well as potential alternatives.
Loving animals is a good reason to consider veterinary school, but it’s not a good reason on its own to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars. Map out a plan for repayment before taking out veterinary school loans and you’ll be better prepared for entering the workforce.