Employment, starting salaries, and educational indebtedness of year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical colleges

Bridgette Bain Veterinary Economics Division, AVMA, Schaumburg, IL

Search for other papers by Bridgette Bain in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
 PhD

Abstract

For year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical schools and colleges who had accepted a full-time position in a private or public practice or an advanced education program (n = 2,448), mean starting annual salary was $80,844. Excluding salaries for individuals who were pursuing advanced education, mean starting annual salary for graduates who had accepted a full-time position in a private or public practice was $98,088.

For the 2,771 year 2021 graduates who reported information on debt, mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school was $156,221 (median, $160,000). Mean educational debt for the 2,322 year 2021 graduates who had educational debt was $186,430, compared with a mean of $188,853 for year 2020 graduates who had educational debt.

Abstract

For year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical schools and colleges who had accepted a full-time position in a private or public practice or an advanced education program (n = 2,448), mean starting annual salary was $80,844. Excluding salaries for individuals who were pursuing advanced education, mean starting annual salary for graduates who had accepted a full-time position in a private or public practice was $98,088.

For the 2,771 year 2021 graduates who reported information on debt, mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school was $156,221 (median, $160,000). Mean educational debt for the 2,322 year 2021 graduates who had educational debt was $186,430, compared with a mean of $188,853 for year 2020 graduates who had educational debt.

Introduction

The AVMA has conducted its annual survey of fourth-year veterinary medical students in cooperation with the schools and colleges of veterinary medicine in the US for several decades now. For 2021, surveys were sent to 3,311 veterinary medical students expected to graduate in the spring of that year from the 30 US schools and colleges of veterinary medicine. Responses were received from 2,790 (84.3%; Appendix) students. Surveys were distributed approximately 4 weeks prior to the time of graduation for each school or college, and the survey instrument remained active until July 1. Data on veterinary students’ employment choices, expected salaries, and estimated educational indebtedness were collected from survey respondents. All 30 schools and colleges participated in the web-based survey. In the results reported here, base sizes varied because some respondents did not answer all questions.

Employment of New Graduates

At the time of the survey, 2,723 of the 2,791 (97.6%) respondents indicated they had sought or were actively seeking employment in veterinary medicine or advanced education opportunities. The remaining 68 (2.4%) respondents indicated they were not actively seeking such positions. Among the 2,723 respondents seeking veterinary positions, 2,583 (94.9%) had received ≥ 1 offer. Of the 2,583 who specified the number of offers received, 943 (36.5%) had received 1 offer, 505 (19.6%) had received 2 offers, 512 (19.8%) had received 3 offers, and 623 (24.1%) had received ≥ 4 offers. The mean number of offers for those who reported the number of offers received was 2.8 (median, 2); among those securing advanced education and full-time positions, mean numbers of offers were 2.0 and 3.0, respectively.

At the time of the survey, 2,497 of 2,623 (95.2%) respondents who had received employment or advanced education offers had accepted a position. Of these, 2,497 reported the sector of their secured postgraduate position (Table 1). Among those who had accepted offers, 1,761 (70.5%) had accepted full-time positions in private practice (n = 1,669) or in public or corporate practice (92) and 736 (29.5%) had accepted advanced education offers. Of the 1,669 respondents who had accepted employment in private practice, 75 (4.5%), 228 (13.7%), 1,327 (79.5%), and 39 (2.3%) had chosen positions in food animal, mixed-animal, companion animal, and equine practice, respectively. Among respondents who had accepted positions in public or corporate practice, the largest proportions had accepted positions at a not-for-profit organization (22/92 [23.9%]). Of the 736 respondents who had accepted positions in advanced education programs, 697 (94.7%) were entering internships or residencies. Seventeen of the remaining 39 respondents reported plans to pursue a doctoral or master’s degree.

Table 1

Mean full-time starting salaries of year 2019 graduates* of US veterinary medical schools and colleges classified by type of employment.

Employment type No. (%) accepting positions Mean ± SD starting salary No. reporting starting salary
Private practice
 Food animal exclusive 27 (1.1) 84,963 ± 19,772 27
 Food animal predominant 48 (1.9) 77,518 ± 13,633 46
 Mixed animal 228 (9.1) 85,135 ± 15,778 225
 Companion animal predominant 327 (13.1) 101,641 ± 22,477 321
 Companion animal exclusive 1,000 (40.0) 103,881 ± 22,407 992
 Equine 39 (1.6) 54,539 ± 24,685 38
Total private practice 1,669 (66.8) 98,705 ± 23,713 1,649
Public and corporate practice
 Federal government (civil service) 15 (0.6) 72,765 ± 10,315 15
 Uniformed services 21 (0.8) 78,954 ± 16,031 19
 College or university 3 (0.1) 56,667 ± 37,528 3
 State of local government 2 (0.1) 72,500 ± 38,891 2
 Industry-commercial 10 (0.4) 115,550 ± 25,294 10
 Not-for-profit 22 (0.9) 89,432 ± 25,841 22
 Other 19 (0.8) 84,250 ± 36,241 6
Total public and corporate practice 92 (3.7) 84,872 ± 26,213 77
Advanced education program
 MPH 3 (0.1) 64,000 ± 19,799 2
 MS 2 (0.1) 81,000 ± 0.00 1
 PhD 12 (0.5) 37,833 ± 15,497 12
 Internship (private or academic) 636 (25.5) 38,331 ± 11,164 626
 Residency program 61 (2.4) 45,123 ± 10,107 60
 Education: other 9 (0.4) 67,589 ± 33,283 8
 Advanced study 9 (0.4) 42,056 ± 9,951 9
 Other 4 (0.2) 80,250 ± 32,837 4
Total advanced education 736 (29.5) 39,621 ± 12,763 722
Totals†
Total employment types except advanced education programs 1,761 (70.5) 98,088 ± 23,993 1,726
Total employment types 2,497 (100.0) 80,844 ± 34,131 2,448

*Surveys were sent to 3,311 veterinary medical students expected to graduate in spring 2021, and responses were received from 2,791. In total, 2,723 had accepted positions at the time of the survey; 2,497 reported the type of position accepted, and salary information was provided by 2,448 of those who accepted full-time employment or advanced education offers. †Totals represent the overall values for each column.

Over 98% of respondents who had accepted full-time employment or advanced education offers reported the total hours they expected to work per week (2,467/2,497 [98.8%]): 202 (8.2%) expected to work < 40 h/wk, 1,551 (62.9%) expected to work between 40 and 50 h/wk, and 714 (28.9%) expected to work > 50 h/wk. The mean amount of time expected to work was 50 h/wk. Those who had accepted full-time positions in private practice (mean, 44 h/wk) or in public or corporate practice (mean, 45 h/wk) expected to work, on average, about 20 h/wk less than those who had accepted advanced education offers (mean, 64 h/wk).

Advanced Education

Of the 736 respondents who had accepted advanced education offers, 636 (86.4%) had accepted an internship, 61 (8.3%) had accepted a residency, and 39 (5.3%) had accepted a position in a master’s degree program, doctoral degree program, or some other educational program. Of the 615 respondents who indicated the type of internship chosen, 249 (40.5%) had accepted a position in a private referral practice, 176 (28.6%) had accepted a position in academia, 97 (15.8%) had accepted a private practice position, 75 (12.2%) had accepted a position in a corporate-owned practice, and 18 (2.9%) had accepted a position with a not-for-profit organization. Companion animal internships were the most commonly selected species focus (485/618 [78.5%]), followed by equine (97 [15.7%]), zoological or exotic animal (13 [2.1%]), food animal (12 [1.9%]), and mixed-animal (8 [1.3%]) internships and internships involving other specialties (3 [0.5%]).

Respondents who reported they accepted an internship were asked about their primary reason for doing so. Of the 612 who answered, 322 (52.6%) indicated they planned to apply for a residency, 127 (20.8%) indicated they wanted to practice better quality medicine, 104 (17.0%) believed they needed more training before entering veterinary practice, and 51 (8.3%) reported they felt they required an internship to obtain employment in their desired position. Five (0.8%) respondents indicated they believed they would earn more money in veterinary medicine by doing an internship, and 3 (0.5%) indicated they chose to participate in an internship for reasons other than the choices listed on the survey.

Specialty Board Certification

Overall, 839 of the 2,791 (30.1%) respondents indicated they were planning to pursue certification in an AVMA-recognized specialty. When respondents were asked to indicate their likely area of specialization (with respondents able to choose > 1 area), 181 (21.6%) indicated internal medicine (cardiology, neurology, or oncology), 134 (16.0%) selected surgery, 104 (12.4%) selected zoological medicine, 94 (11.2%) selected emergency and critical care, and 66 (7.9%) selected pathology. The least frequently selected response options were animal welfare (13 [1.5%]), microbiology (7 [0.8%]), poultry medicine (7 [0.8%]), nutrition (6 [0.7%]), toxicology (4 [0.5%]), and clinical pharmacology (0 [0.0%]).

Base Starting Salary

Respondents who had accepted a full-time or continuing education positions were asked to describe the method of compensation, and 2,471 of the 2,497 respondents who had accepted full-time positions reported how they were compensated. Also, 1,378 (55.8%) indicated they would receive a guaranteed salary (or stipend) with no option for a production bonus, 1,045 (42.3%) indicated they would receive a base salary (or stipend) with a production bonus, 20 (0.8%) indicated they would be paid solely on a production basis, and 28 (1.1%) were uncertain. Overall, 2,448 of the 2,497 (98.0%) respondents identified the full-time or advanced education position they had accepted as well as their expected income (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

Relative frequency distribution of starting salaries of year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical schools or colleges who accepted full-time positions in a private practice, public practice, or continuing education program. Salary information was provided by 2,448 of 2,723 (89.9%) respondents who had accepted a full-time position in practice or in an advanced education program.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 260, 13; 10.2460/javma.22.07.0308

To provide a more accurate measure of changes in starting salary over time, an index that held variables (eg, geographic location and type of position) constant if they explained a significant (P < .05; multiple linear regression) amount of the variation in salary was used to calculate the weighted mean starting salary. Because of cost of living, veterinarians in urban areas were typically paid higher salaries than those in rural areas. Thus, without this adjustment, an increase in the proportion of veterinarians who accepted jobs in rural areas could have depressed the overall mean starting salary, even if salaries increased in both rural and urban areas. By use of this index, we estimated the weighted mean salary of respondents who accepted full-time positions in 2021 was $96,819 (unweighted mean salary, $98,088), which represented a 6.7% increase from the weighted mean salary of $90,730 for graduating students who had accepted full-time positions in 2020. The unweighted mean salary (stipend) for respondents who accepted advanced education offers in 2021 was $39,621, representing a 6.5% increase from the unweighted mean salary of $37,202 for graduating students who had accepted advanced education offers in 2020.

Of the 27 respondents who had accepted full-time positions in food animal–exclusive practices, 19 (70.4%) were offered a starting annual salary of ≥ $80,000, 7 (25.9%) were offered a starting annual salary between $60,00 and $79,999, and 1 (3.7%) was offered a starting annual salary between $30,000 and $59,999 (Table 2). This variation in starting salaries was likely explained by differences in cost of living resulting from geographic disparities. In contrast, of the 992 respondents who had accepted full-time positions in companion animal–exclusive practices, 933 (94.1%) were offered a starting annual salary of ≥ $80,000 and only 30 (3.0%) were offered a starting annual salary of ≤ $59,999. Of the 38 respondents who had accepted full-time positions in equine practice, 7 (18.4%) were offered a starting annual salary of ≥ $80,000, 10 (26.3%) were offered a starting annual salary between $50,000 and $79,999, and 21 (55.3%) were offered a starting annual salary of < $49,999.

Table 2

Distribution of full-time starting annual salaries of year 2019 graduates* of US veterinary medical schools and colleges classified by type of employment.

Salary range ($) FAE (n = 27) FAP (n = 46) MIX (n = 225) CAP (n = 321) CAE (n = 992) EQU (n = 38) PUB (n = 77) AEP (n = 722) Overall (n = 2,448)
≤ 29,999 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 5.3 0.0 16.9 5.1
30,000–39,999 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.9 0.4 34.2 3.9 43.1 13.7
40,000–49,999 0.0 2.2 0.9 0.6 1.4 15.8 2.6 17.2 6.2
50,000–59,999 3.7 4.3 2.2 0.6 1.1 5.3 5.2 14.7 5.4
60,000–69,999 3.7 13.0 6.7 1.2 0.8 7.9 10.4 4.0 3.0
70,000–79,999 22.2 34.8 19.6 7.2 2.1 13.2 22.1 1.5 5.8
80,000–89,999 37.0 28.3 35.6 11.8 11.7 5.3 15.6 0.6 11.2
90,000–99,999 22.2 2.2 16.0 21.8 20.1 5.3 14.3 0.0 13.3
≥ 100,000 11.1 15.2 18.7 55.8 62.3 7.9 26.0 0.6 35.8

For each type of employment, values indicate percentage of respondents who reported salary in a given range.

Includes respondents who accepted a full-time position in federal, state, or local government; a college or university; industry or commercial organization; a not-for-profit organization; or other employment not listed separately. Includes respondents who accepted advanced education offers in a residency, internship, master’s, PhD, or other educational program not listed separately.

AEP = Advanced education program. CAE = Companion animal exclusive. CAP = Companion animal predominant. EQU = Equine. FAE = Food animal exclusive. FAP = Food animal predominant. MIX = Mixed animal. PUB = Public and corporate practice.

See Table 1 for remainder of key.

Starting annual salary was reported by 626 respondents who had accepted an internship. Of these, 463 (74.0%) were offered a starting annual salary between $30,000 and $59,999, and 127 (20.3%) were offered a starting annual salary of ≤ $29,999. Of the 60 respondents who had accepted a residency, 58 (96.7%) were offered a starting annual salary between $30,000 and $59,999.

Benefits and Additional Compensation

Respondents who had accepted a full-time or continuing education position were asked whether they expected to receive additional benefits as part of their employment compensation. Of the 2,497 respondents reporting the sector in which they had secured employment, 2,433 (97.4%) reported they would receive additional benefits (Table 3). Overall, the most common benefits were paid vacation leave (1,985 [81.6%]), continuing education expenses (1,915 [78.7%]), licensing fees (1,865 [76.7%]), a medical or hospitalization plan (1,832 [75.3%]), discounted pet care (1,733 [71.2%]), and liability insurance (1,673 [68.8%]).

Table 3

Additional benefits reported by year 2019 graduates* of US veterinary medical schools and colleges classified by type of employment.

Type of benefit Private practice (n = 1,657) Public practice (n = 75) Advanced education (n = 701) Total (n = 2,433)
Maternity leave/paternity leave 730 (44.1) 38 (50.7) 58 (8.3) 826 (33.9)
Medical/hospitalization plan 1,236 (74.6) 64 (85.3) 532 (75.9) 1,832 (75.3)
Dental plan 1,008 (60.8) 64 (85.3) 406 (57.9) 1,478 (60.7)
Disability insurance 785 (47.4) 43 (57.3) 207 (29.5) 1,035 (42.5)
Life insurance 608 (36.7) 46 (61.3) 207 (29.5) 861 (35.4)
Liability insurance 1,251 (75.5) 36 (48.0) 386 (55.1) 1,673 (68.8)
Paid sick leave 1,169 (70.5) 62 (82.7) 267 (38.1) 1,498 (61.6)
Paid vacation leave 1,476 (89.1) 70 (93.3) 439 (62.6) 1,985 (81.6)
Paid legal holidays 796 (48.0) 56 (74.7) 77 (11.0) 929 (38.2)
Tax-deferred retirement plan (ie, 401K, IRS qualified profit-sharing plan) 984 (59.4) 48 (64.0) 203 (29.0) 1,235 (50.8)
Informal profit-sharing plan (not tax-deferred) 61 (3.7) 3 (4.0) 1 (0.1) 65 (2.7)
Employer contribution/match to a tax-deferred retirement plan 1,015 (61.3) 36 (48.) 102 (14.6) 1,153 (47.4)
Continuing education leave 1,232 (74.4) 32 (42.7) 204 (29.1) 1,468 (60.3)
Continuing education expenses 1,521 (91.8) 42 (56.0) 352 (50.2) 1,915 (78.7)
Licenses 1,433 (86.5) 44 (58.7) 388 (55.3) 1,865 (76.7)
Association dues 1,251 (75.5) 23 (30.7) 226 (32.2) 1,500 (61.7)
Personal use of vehicle 189 (11.4) 11 (14.7) 39 (5.6) 239 (9.8)
Discounted pet care 1,347 (81.3) 32 (42.7) 354 (50.5) 1,733 (71.2)
Other 70 (4.2) 4 (5.3) 37 (5.3) 111 (4.6)
Total 1,657 (100.0) 75 (100.0) 701 (100.0) 2,433 (100.0)

Data are given as number (%) of respondents.

See Table 1 for remainder of key.

Of 1,669 respondents who reported accepting a position in private practice, 1,657 (99.3%) indicated they expected to receive additional benefits. The most common benefits were continuing education expenses (1,521 [91.8%]), paid vacation leave (1,476 [89.1%]), licensing fees (1,433 [86.5%]), discounted pet care (1,347 [81.3%]), and liability insurance (1,251 [75.5%]). Of the 92 respondents who reported accepting a position in public or corporate practice, 75 (81.5%) indicated they expected to receive additional benefits. The most common benefits were paid vacation leave (70 [93.3%]), a medical or hospitalization plan (64 [85.3%]), a dental plan (64 [85.3%]), and paid sick leave (62 [82.7%]). Of 736 respondents who reported accepting a position in an advanced education program (inclusive of internships and residencies), 701 (95.2%) indicated that they expected to receive additional benefits.

Respondents were asked to report whether they expected to receive a signing bonus, moving allowance, emergency case compensation, housing allowance, or student loan repayment assistance as additional compensation (Table 4). Among the 1,669 who reported accepting a position in private practice, 738 (44.2%) received a signing bonus, 454 (27.2%) received a moving allowance, 83 (5.0%) received emergency case compensation, 16 (1.0%) received a housing allowance, and 112 (6.7%) received student loan repayment assistance. Among the 92 who reported accepting a position in public or corporate practice, 16 (17.4%) received a signing bonus, 17 (18.5%) received a moving allowance, 12 (13.0%) received a housing allowance, and 4 (4.3%) received student loan repayment assistance. Among the 736 who accepted a position in an advanced education program, 19 (2.6%) received a signing bonus, 20 (2.7%) received a moving allowance, 21 (2.9%) received emergency case compensation, 13 (1.8%) received a housing allowance, and 3 (0.4%) received student loan repayment assistance.

Table 4

Additional compensation anticipated during the first year of employment in full-time positions for year 2021 graduates* of US veterinary medical schools and colleges classified by employment type.

Type of additional compensation Employment type No. (%) of respondents Mean ± SD value ($)
Signing bonus Private practice 738 (44.2) 9,575 ± 9,072
Public or corporate practice 16 (17.4) 10,656 ± 7,760
Advanced education 19 (2.6) 9,158 ± 7,116
Moving allowance Private practice 454 (27.2) 4,193 ± 2,668
Public or corporate practice 17 (18.5) 7,324 ± 6,533
Advanced education 20 (2.7) 2,850 ± 1,899
Emergency case compensation Private practice 83 (5.0) 5,052 ± 5,346
Public or corporate practice
Advanced education 21 (2.9) 2,374 ± 2,777
Housing allowance Private practice 16 (1.0) 8,394 ± 6,561
Public or corporate practice 12 (13.0) 12,907 ± 10,192
Advanced education 13 (1.8) 8,162 ± 4,999
Student loan repayment assistance Private practice 112 (6.7) 8,547 ± 12,628
Public or corporate practice 4 (4.3) 8,606 ± 13,644
Advanced education 3 (0.4) 5,000

Values were based on information from 1,046 respondents who indicated they would receive ≥ 1 type of additional compensation to supplement their salary; not all respondents provided values for this compensation.

See Table 1 for remainder of key.

Educational Debt

Respondents were asked to indicate how much educational debt they had when they began veterinary school and their total anticipated debt at the time of graduation; 2,771 of 2,791 (99.3%) survey respondents provided this information (Table 5). The amount of educational debt accumulated during veterinary school was determined by subtracting entering debt from anticipated debt at graduation; the frequency distribution was summarized (Figure 2). Among the 2,771 respondents providing educational debt information, 1,509 (54.5%) reported accumulating ≥ $150,000 of educational debt during veterinary school. The mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school for all respondents (n = 2,771) was $156,221 (median, $160,000). Excluding respondents who reported that they did not accumulate any educational debt during veterinary school (n = 449 [16.2%]), the mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school for year 2021 graduates was $186,430, compared with $188,853 for year 2020 graduates.

Table 5

Distribution of educational debt accumulated during veterinary school for year 2019 graduates* of US veterinary medical schools and colleges.

Educational debt ($) Percentage of respondents Cumulative percentage
None 16.2 16.2
1–24,999 2.2 18.4
25,000–49,999 2.6 21.0
50,000–74,999 4.3 25.3
75,000–99,999 5.1 30.3
100,000–124,999 7.3 37.6
125,000–149,999 7.9 45.5
150,000–174,999 11.3 56.9
175,000–199,999 9.6 66.5
200,000–224,999 7.5 74.0
225,000–249,999 5.1 79.1
250,000–274,999 5.3 84.4
275,000–299,999 4.3 88.7
300,000–324,999 4.5 93.2
325,000–349,999 2.3 95.6
350,000–374,999 2.0 97.5
375,000–399,999 1.1 98.6
≥ 400,000 1.4 100.0

*Values were based on information from 2,720 respondents who answered questions about debt. Cumulative percentage represents the percentage of respondents who had debt less than or equal to the specific range’s upper limit (eg, 32.1% of respondents reported debt ≤ $99,999).

Figure 2
Figure 2

Relative frequency distribution of debt accumulated in veterinary school for year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical schools or colleges. Respondents were asked to report their educational debt upon entering veterinary school and their anticipated debt upon graduation. The reported debt is the difference. Debt information was provided by 2,771 of 2,791 (99.3%) respondents.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 260, 13; 10.2460/javma.22.07.0308

Acknowledgments

This article has not undergone external peer review.

Appendix

Response rates for fourth-year students at the 30 schools and colleges of veterinary medicine in the US who participated in a 2021 survey of employment, starting salaries, and educational indebtedness.

School name Response rate
Auburn University 100.0%
Colorado State University 57.1%
Cornell Veterinary College 98.1%
Iowa State University 71.6%
Kansas State University 70.4%
Lincoln Memorial University 100.0%
Louisiana State University 100.0%
Michigan State University 77.0%
Midwestern University 72.2%
Mississippi State University 100.0%
North Carolina State University 100.0%
Oklahoma State University 52.7%
Oregon State University 84.5%
Purdue University 100.0%
Texas A&M University 100.0%
The Ohio State University 72.5%
Tufts University 70.8%
Tuskegee University 62.7%
University of California-Davis 100.0%
University of Florida 79.0%
University of Georgia 100.0%
University of Illinois-CVM 82.8%
University of Minnesota 91.4%
University of Missouri-Columbia 97.4%
University of Pennsylvania 73.2%
University of Tennessee 93.3%
University of Wisconsin 83.8%
Virginia Tech and University of Maryland 100.0%
Washington State University 55.9%
Western University of Health Sciences 91.0%
Total US schools (n = 30) 84.3%

Contributor Notes

Corresponding author: Dr. Bain (bbain@avma.org)
  • Figure 1

    Relative frequency distribution of starting salaries of year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical schools or colleges who accepted full-time positions in a private practice, public practice, or continuing education program. Salary information was provided by 2,448 of 2,723 (89.9%) respondents who had accepted a full-time position in practice or in an advanced education program.

  • Figure 2

    Relative frequency distribution of debt accumulated in veterinary school for year 2021 graduates of US veterinary medical schools or colleges. Respondents were asked to report their educational debt upon entering veterinary school and their anticipated debt upon graduation. The reported debt is the difference. Debt information was provided by 2,771 of 2,791 (99.3%) respondents.

Advertisement