Veterinary Economics: Employment, starting salaries, and educational indebtedness of year-2019 US graduates of nondomestic veterinary medical colleges

Bridgette Bain Veterinary Economics Division, AVMA, 1931 N Meacham Rd, Schaumburg, IL 60173.

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The AVMA Council on Education is recognized by the US Department of Education as the accrediting body for colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States. Through its accreditation policies, the Council on Education ensures that colleges of veterinary medicine meet minimum standards in veterinary medical education and that students who graduate from those colleges receive an education that will prepare them for entry-level positions in the veterinary profession. On request, the council will also accredit colleges of veterinary medicine in other countries, and 20 nondomestic colleges of veterinary medicine are currently accredited by the Council on Education.

In 2019, almost 3,200 students graduated from the 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States. That same year, however, an additional 1,530 US citizens graduated from nondomestic colleges of veterinary medicine.1 Historically, many US citizens who graduated from nondomestic colleges of veterinary medicine have returned to the United States to enter the veterinary profession. Thus, information on their employment prospects, starting salaries, and educational indebtedness is vital to understanding the market for veterinarians in the United States.

The 2 nondomestic colleges of veterinary medicine that train the largest numbers of US citizens are Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, located in St Kitts, and St George's University School of Veterinary Medicine, located in Grenada. In 2019, the AVMA sent surveys to 630 veterinary students expected to graduate from these 2 schools that year. Responses were received from 282 students, representing a response rate of 44.8%. This consisted of responses from 210 of 458 (45.9%) students at Ross University and 72 of 172 (41.9%) students at St George's University. Overall, these 282 students would represent 18.4% of the 1,530 US citizens graduating from nondomestic colleges of veterinary medicine in 2019. Consequently, the findings reported here should not be considered to necessarily represent all US citizens graduating from nondomestic colleges of veterinary medicine in 2019.

The survey was distributed to graduating students at Ross University and St George's University approximately 4 weeks prior to their anticipated graduation date. Some respondents did not answer all questions; therefore, the base sizes vary.

Employment of New Graduates

Survey recipients were asked whether they were actively seeking employment in veterinary medicine or advanced education programs; 258 of 282 (91.5%) respondents indicated they were actively seeking employment or continuing education programs, and 24 (8.5%) indicated they were not actively seeking such positions. Overall, 259 of the 282 (91.8%) respondents reported they had received ≥ 1 offer. Of the 259 respondents who reported receiving an offer, 72 (27.8%) had received 1 offer, 63 (24.3%) had received 2 offers, 66 (25.5%) had received 3 offers, and 58 (22.4%) had received ≥ 4 offers. The overall mean number of offers received by the 259 respondents who reported receiving an offer was 3.6 (median, 2 offers). Respondents who accepted a full-time employment position in veterinary medicine received a mean of 3.6 offers; those who accepted admission into an advanced education program received a mean of 3.7 offers.

Of the 259 respondents who received an offer, 188 (72.6%) accepted a full-time employment position in veterinary medicine, 59 (22.8%) accepted admission into an advanced education program, and 12 (4.6%) had not accepted any positions. Among the 247 respondents who had accepted offers, 177 (71.7%) accepted positions in private practice, 11 (4.5%) accepted positions in public or corporate practice, and 59 (23.9%) accepted admission into advanced education programs (Table 1).

Table 1—

Mean full-time starting annual salaries of year-2019 graduates of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine.

Employment typeNo. (%) accepting positionMean ± SD starting salary
Private practice  
 Food animal exclusive1 (0.4)
 Food animal predominant3 (1.2)81,667 ± 7,638
 Mixed animal17 (6.9)72,735 ± 14,488
 Companion animal predominant44 (17.8)94,673 ± 21,855
 Companion animal exclusive109 (44.1)92,764 ± 20,078
 Equine3 (1.2)44,333 ± 27,227
All private practice177 (71.7)90,166 ± 21,695
Public and corporate practice  
 College or university1 (0.4)
 Industry or commercial organization1 (0.4)
 Not-for-profit organization7 (2.8)*83,667 ± 18,143
 Other2 (0.8)
All public and corporate practice11 (4.4)84,400 ± 28,219
Advanced education  
 Internship (private or academic)58 (23.5)35,129 ± 7,775
 Other1 (0.4)
All advanced education59 (23.9)35,483 ± 8,172
All employment types except advanced education188 (76.1)89,858 ± 22,036
All employment types247 (100)76,817 ± 30,426

One individual in this group did not report annual starting salary information.

— = Not reported to protect confidentiality.

Of the 177 respondents who accepted positions in private practice, 153 (86.4%) chose companion animal practice, 17 (9.6%) chose mixed animal practice, 4 (2.3%) chose food animal practice, and 3 (1.7%) chose equine practice. Of the 11 respondents who accepted positions in public or corporate practice, 7 accepted positions in not-for-profit organizations, 1 accepted a position at a college or university, 1 accepted a position in industry, and 2 accepted positions in other veterinary employment. Of the 59 respondents who accepted admission into an advanced education program, 58 (98.3%) were entering an internship program and 1 was entering an education program identified as “other”; none reported accepting positions in other types of advanced education programs (eg, a master's or doctoral degree program).

All 247 respondents who accepted an offer reported the number of hours they expected to work each week. Eighteen (7.3%) reported expecting to work < 40 h/wk, 161 (65.2%) expected to work ≥ 40 to ≤ 50 h/wk, and 68 (27.5%) expected to work > 50 h/wk. Those who accepted positions in private, public, or corporate practice expected to work a mean of 45 h/wk; those who accepted admission into advanced education programs expected to work a mean of 65 h/wk. Both those who accepted positions in private practice and those who accepted positions in public or corporate practice reported expecting to work a mean of 45 h/wk.

Advanced Education

Of the 58 respondents who reported securing internship positions, 25 (43.1%) accepted an internship in a private referral practice, 12 (20.7%) accepted an internship in private practice, 9 (15.5%) accepted an academic internship, 8 (13.8%) accepted an internship at a corporate-owned practice, and 4 (6.9%) accepted an internship in a not-for-profit organization. With regard to species focus, 48 (82.8%) respondents accepted internships in the companion animal sector, 8 (13.8%) accepted internships in the equine sector, 1 (1.7%) accepted an internship in the food animal sector, and 1 (1.7%) accepted an internship identified as “other.”

Respondents who accepted internship positions were asked their primary reason for undertaking an internship. Of the 58 respondents, 27 (46.6%) indicated that they planned to apply for a residency, 14 (24.1%) indicated that they wanted to practice better-quality veterinary medicine, 9 (15.5%) indicated that they felt they needed more training before entering veterinary practice, 7 (12.1%) indicated that they felt their desired position required an internship to obtain employment, and 1 (1.7%) indicated that they felt they would earn more money in veterinary medicine by doing an internship.

Specialty Board Certification

Ninety-one of the 282 (32.3%) respondents indicated they were planning to pursue certification in an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty at the time of the survey or in the future, and of these, 87 (95.6%) reported the type of specialty they planned to pursue. Respondents were permitted to identify multiple specialties they wished to pursue, with a total of 133 selections made. For the 87 respondents indicating the type of specialty they wished to pursue, the most frequently selected specialties were surgery (21 [24.1%]), internal medicine (ie, cardiology, neurology, or oncology; 20 [23.0%]), zoological medicine (12 [13.8%]), radiology (11 [12.6%]), emergency and critical care (10 [11.5%]), veterinary practice (9 [10.3%]), pathology (7 [8.0%]), anesthesia and analgesia (6 [6.9%]), sports medicine and rehabilitation (6 [6.9%]), theriogenology (6 [6.9%]), and ophthalmology (5 [5.7%]).

Base Starting Salary

The survey asked respondents to indicate the means by which they expected to be compensated for work (ie, base salary only, base salary with production bonus, or production-based salary only). Of the 247 respondents who had accepted an offer, 132 (53.4%) indicated they expected to receive a guaranteed salary (or stipend), 108 (43.7%) indicated they expected to receive a base salary with production bonus, 2 (0.8%) indicated they expected to receive a production-based salary only, and 5 (2.0%) indicated they did not know how they were to be compensated.

Information on expected annual starting salary was reported by 246 of 247 respondents. Mean annual starting salary of respondents accepting full-time positions was $89,858. Mean annual starting salary of respondents who accepted advanced education offers was $35,483.

Annual starting salaries for respondents were broadly distributed (Figure 1). The largest category of respondents (55/246 [22.4%]) indicated they expected to receive an annual starting salary ≥ $100,000, and the second largest category (28 [11.4%]) indicated they expected to earn between $85,000 and $89,999. There were 26 (10.6%) respondents who expected to earn between $90,000 and $94,999, 22 (8.9%) who expected to earn between $75,000 and $79,999, and 20 (8.1%) who expected to earn between $80,000 and $84,999.

Figure 1—
Figure 1—

Relative frequency distribution of starting salaries for year-2019 graduates (n = 246) of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine who had accepted full-time positions in private, public, or corporate practice (187) or in an advanced education program (59).

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 257, 10; 10.2460/javma.2020.257.10.1025

Of the 109 respondents who accepted positions in companion animal–exclusive practice, 35 (32.1%) were offered a starting annual salary ≥ $100,000, 32 (29.4%) were offered a starting annual salary between $80,000 and $89,999, 24 (22.0%) were offered a starting annual salary between $90,000 and $99,999, and 11 (10.1%) were offered a starting annual salary between $70,000 and $79,999 (Table 2).

Table 2—

Distribution of full-time starting salaries for year-2019 graduates of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine.

 Private practice  
Salary range ($)Mixed animal (n = 17)Companion animal predominant (n = 44)Companion animal exclusive (n = 109)Internship (n = 58)All respondents (n = 246)
≤ 29,9990 (0.0)0 (0.0)0 (0.0)16 (27.6)18 (7.3)
30,000–39,9990 (0.0)0 (0.0)1 (0.9)21 (36.2)23 (9.3)
40,000–49,9991 (5.9)0 (0.0)2 (1.8)17 (29.3)20 (8.1)
50,000–59,9991 (5.9)0 (0.0)1 (0.9)4 (6.9)7 (2.8)
60,000–69,9993 (17.6)2 (4.5)3 (2.8)0 (0.0)9 (3.7)
70,000–79,9998 (47.1)8 (18.2)11 (10.1)0 (0.0)32 (13.0)
80,000–89,9992 (11.8)10 (22.7)32 (29.4)0 (0.0)48 (19.5)
90,000–99,9991 (5.9)8 (18.2)24 (22.0)0 (0.0)34 (13.8)
≥ 100,0001 (5.9)16 (36.4)35 (32.1)0 (0.0)55 (22.4)

Of the 44 respondents who accepted positions in companion animal–predominant practice, 16 (36.4%) were offered a starting annual salary ≥ $100,000, 10 (22.7%) were offered a starting annual salary between $80,000 and $89,999, 8 (18.2%) were offered a starting annual salary between $90,000 and $99,999, and 8 (18.2%) were offered a starting annual salary between $70,000 and $79,999.

Of the 58 respondents who accepted an internship, 21 (36.2%) were offered a stipend between $30,000 and $39,999, 17 (29.3%) were offered a stipend between $40,000 and $49,999, 16 (27.6%) were offered a stipend ≤ $29,999, and 4 (6.9%) were offered a stipend between $50,000 and $59,999. Salary distributions for the remaining practice types are not reported to protect confidentiality.

Benefits and Additional Compensation

A total of 242 of the 247 (98.0%) respondents who accepted full-time positions in private, public, or corporate practice or admission into advanced education programs indicated they were offered additional benefits as part of their compensation package. Of these, 194 (80.2%) indicated they were offered discounted pet care, 193 (79.8%) were offered paid vacation leave, 192 (79.3%) were offered a medical hospitalization plan, 185 (76.4%) were offered continuing education expenses, 184 (76.0%) were offered reimbursement for licensing fees, 145 (59.9%) were offered continuing education leave, 143 (59.1%) were offered a dental plan, 142 (58.7%) were offered liability insurance, and 138 (57.0%) were offered paid sick leave. Fewer respondents reported receiving reimbursement for association dues (127 [52.5%]), a tax-deferred retirement plan (115 [47.5%]), paid legal holidays (94 [38.8%]), disability insurance (91 [37.6%]), life insurance (89 [36.8%]), an employer contribution to a tax-deferred retirement plan (86 [35.5%]), personal use of a vehicle (17 [7.0%]), a non–tax-deferred informal profit-sharing plan (9 [3.7%]), and other compensation (6 [2.5%]).

Of the 247 respondents who accepted full-time positions in private, public, or corporate practice or admission to advanced education programs, 99 (40.1%) indicated that they anticipated earning additional compensation. Of these 99, 88 (88.9%) found employment in private practice, 3 (3.0%) found employment in public or corporate practice, and 8 (8.1%) were admitted to advanced education programs. Of the 99 anticipating a bonus, 64 (64.6%) were offered a signing bonus, 39 (39.4%) were offered a moving allowance, 25 (25.3%) were offered emergency case compensation, 24 (24.2%) were offered student loan repayment assistance, and 4 (4.0%) were offered a housing allowance.

Fifty-nine of 64 (92.2%) respondents reported the value of their signing bonus (mean ± SD, $8,508 ± 6,673), 32 of 39 (82.1%) reported the value of their moving allowance ($3,756 ± 2,608), 9 of 25 reported the value of their emergency case compensation allowance ($5,444 ± 3,670), 2 of 4 reported the value of their housing allowance ($600 ± 141), and 17 of 24 (70.8%) reported the value of their student loan repayment assistance ($2,829 ± 3,700).

Educational Debt

Respondents were asked to indicate how much educational debt they had when starting veterinary school and their total anticipated educational debt at the time of graduation. All 282 respondents provided information on their debt status. The amount of debt accumulated during veterinary school was determined by subtracting the debt amount when starting veterinary school from the anticipated debt at graduation; the frequency distribution was summarized (Table 3). Thirty-seven of 282 (13.1%) respondents reported accumulating no educational debt in veterinary school, and 175 (62.1%) respondents accumulated ≥ $300,000 in educational debt in veterinary school (Figure 2). Mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school for all 282 respondents was $274,942 (median, $325,064). Excluding the 37 respondents who reported accumulating no education debt in veterinary school, mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school for those who reported having at least some debt was $316,464 (median, $335,000).

Table 3—

Distribution of educational debt accumulated during veterinary school for year-2019 graduates of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine.

Educational debt ($)Percentage of respondentsCumulative percentage
None13.113.1
10,000–19,9990.413.5
20,000–29,9990.714.2
60,000–69,9990.714.9
70,000–79,9990.715.6
80,000–89,9990.416.0
90,000–99,9990.416.3
110,000–119,9991.117.4
120,000–129,9990.718.1
130,000–139,9990.418.4
140,000–149,9990.418.8
160,000–169,9990.419.1
180,000–189,9990.419.5
190,000–199,9990.720.2
200,000–209,9991.822.0
210,000–219,9990.722.7
220,000–229,9991.123.8
230,000–239,9991.825.5
240,000–249,9991.126.6
250,000–259,9993.930.5
260,000–269,9991.131.6
270,000–279,9991.833.3
280,000–289,9992.135.5
290,000–299,9992.537.9
300,000–309,9995.343.3
310,000–319,9991.845.0
320,000–329,9997.852.8
330,000–339,9996.459.2
340,000–349,9995.364.5
350,000–359,9997.872.3
360,000–369,9996.078.4
370,000–379,9996.084.4
380,000–389,9992.887.2
390,000–399,9993.290.4
400,000–409,9993.994.3
410,000–419,9991.896.1
420,000–429,9990.496.5
430,000–439,9990.797.2
440,000–449,9990.797.9
450,000–459,9990.798.6
490,000–499,9991.4100.0

Values are based on information provided by 282 survey respondents who answered survey questions about educational debt. Cumulative percentage represents the percentage of respondents who had debt less than or equal to the specific range's upper limit (eg, 52.8% of respondents reported debt ≤ $329,999).

Figure 2—
Figure 2—

Relative frequency distribution of debt accumulated during veterinary school for year-2019 graduates (n = 282) of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 257, 10; 10.2460/javma.2020.257.10.1025

References

1. Annual data report 2019–2020. Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. Available at: www.aavmc.org/about-aavmc/public-data. Accessed Jun 7, 2020.

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  • Figure 1—

    Relative frequency distribution of starting salaries for year-2019 graduates (n = 246) of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine who had accepted full-time positions in private, public, or corporate practice (187) or in an advanced education program (59).

  • Figure 2—

    Relative frequency distribution of debt accumulated during veterinary school for year-2019 graduates (n = 282) of Ross University and St George's University schools of veterinary medicine.

  • 1. Annual data report 2019–2020. Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. Available at: www.aavmc.org/about-aavmc/public-data. Accessed Jun 7, 2020.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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