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How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

Last updated 03/15/2024 by

Ossiana Tepfenhart

Edited by

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The average salary for a veterinarian is around $99,300. However, salary does vary a lot depending on the industry and veterinarian specialty you work in.
We all love our pets and visiting zoos. Many people dream of being a veterinarian when they are young, but in reality, it’s something that only a handful of people will find as their true calling in life.
Though we all want to be heroes, it takes a special type of person to be a vet. This isn’t just because of the competition present in veterinarian schools or the complexities of learning multiple animal anatomies. Veterinarians are also saddled with immense student debt, which their salaries can’t always compete with. In this article, we discuss the average debt of a vet student, veterinarian salaries, and compare it to the salaries of other professions in the medical community.

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What does a veterinarian do?

A veterinarian, or vet, is a person who specializes in medicine for animals. Though many vets work in animal hospitals, many also perform scientific research, become professors, or focus on a specific kind of animal. (“Specific kind” can refer to large breed, military, or laboratory animals.)
Regardless of the specifics, vets diagnose animals with illnesses, administer medicines, perform surgeries, and even help animal rescues. At times, a veterinarian also may advise owners on nutrition or behavioral matters.

What is an average veterinarian’s salary?

This largely depends on your specialization and employment location. The American Veterinary Medical Association developed a calculator tool that considers your graduation year, location, and community setting to provide the most accurate salary estimation.
For example, a young vet student graduating in 2023 and entering a private equine practice can expect a salary of $61,922 while working in an urban Colorado area. This number drops to $57,839 for rural Iowa veterinarians.
The lowest veterinarian salary is reserved for beginners who often work at a shelter’s animal hospital. If you develop a specialization, have your own practice or work primarily as a veterinary surgeon, your salary could increase substantially.
Use the map below to see the average veterinarian’s salary per state.

How do salaries differ depending on experience level?

Unfortunately, most vets don’t see a six-figure salary directly out of school. Higher salaries come with more experience, specialized areas of treatment, and becoming board certified.
  • Interns. Most veterinarian students complete an internship before continuing on to their residency or area of specialized education. However, these internships typically only pay around $32,000 a year.
  • Entry- or junior-level. As you can see from the calculator tool examples, starting vets should expect a salary of around $50,000 to $70,000 depending on the location and expertise of the position.
  • Mid-level. After a few years of experience, vets can expect a salary between $80,000 and $95,000. This is also the time that vets may choose to become board certified and earn a higher salary, as board certification requires two or three years of experience.
  • Experienced or senior-level. At this level, veterinarians earn an average of $95,000 and above, depending on whether they are board certified. Those who are certified can expect a salary around $150,000 per year.
  • Top-level. Many practicing veterinarians at this level earn a high salary due to their experience. While all vets at this level can expect a salary over six figures, non-specialized veterinarians will earn less.

What factors increase your earnings as a veterinarian?

The average annual salary for a vet can vary greatly. To make sure you get the best money for your work, we suggest looking into these tips:
  • Work in a high-paying city. Veterinarians who work in New York City and San Francisco tend to make the highest salaries. This makes sense since the average incomes of all workers are also far higher there.
  • Open up your own private veterinary office. Opening up your own veterinary office pushes you into management mode and allows you to scale your revenue potential.
  • Specialize in one area of medicine. Being an emergency veterinarian or a specialty vet like a horse surgeon can be way more lucrative.

Pro Tip

A lot of vets make extra cash as veterinary consultants for pet food brands. Advising them on animal care means your pets get better food and is a lucrative source of additional income.

How much does vet school cost?

Because of the medical duties they perform, vets must complete an educational program similar to that of a doctor in human medicine. This includes receiving a doctorate of veterinary medicine after earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
A doctorate in veterinary medicine is fairly expensive—not unlike a regular medical school. A typical vet school will cost between $78,000 to $155,000 depending on the school’s location and any specializations offered in the program. This does not include other expenses (such as room and board), or the college debt students accumulate from their undergraduate degrees. This means that many veterinarians have to spend decades paying down their student loans.

Why is vet school so expensive?

Veterinary school is a form of medical school, and you are technically a medical doctor if you graduate. Schools offering this doctorate program charge high fees to cover such expenses as laboratory equipment, medical dissections, and highly qualified veterinary professors.

Why are veterinarians paid so little?

Though most veterinarians make six-figure salaries, these numbers pale in comparison to other medical professionals. When compared to medical doctors who work in hospitals, veterinarians are paid far less.
The median salary for veterinarians in 2020 was $108,350, which may sound like a lot to some. However, when you compare that to a physician’s average salary of $218,850 in 2020, you can understand why a six-figure salary may sound “little.”

How can I pay for veterinary school?

If you want to become a veterinarian, then you’re going to have to figure out a way to pay for vet school. Unfortunately, the most common way to fund this schooling comes from student loans, including private and federal loans.
Fortunately, there are other ways to fund veterinary school. While you always have the option to pay out of pocket, scholarships and specialty groups can also help contribute to your tuition fees. In some cases, government grants focused on public health initiatives can help you get the money required.

Pro Tip

Before you take out student loans, make sure that you apply for any and all scholarships you find. Some scholarships end up being granted to the only person who applied for them.

What is the average student debt for veterinarians?

According to the most recent reports, the average vet will graduate with a total of $183,302 in loan debt. This makes it a career that can easily turn into a quarter-million-dollar mistake if you do not graduate.

How long does it take a veterinarian to pay off student loans?

Due to the high cost of veterinary degrees, veterinarians can make loan payments for 25 years or more. This estimate depends largely on the vet’s salary. Needless to say, this can make people who regret becoming a veterinarian feel “trapped” in their careers.

Are veterinarians eligible for student loan forgiveness?

Veterinarian jobs often have a lot to do with the public’s health and safety, especially in rural areas. As a result of the great work they do, they have several student loan forgiveness programs available to them.
  • USDA. The USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is one of the most popular programs of this type. Three years of service will wipe away up to $25,000 in loans.
  • Military. Veterinarians who serve in our military can get free college tuition and loan repayment forgiveness. You can contact your local VA department for this.
  • Income-based repayment plans. Low-income veterinarians can get loans forgiven or modified through PAYE and REPAYE.
  • State-specific loan forgiveness programs. Some states offer separate forgiveness programs in addition to those from federal organizations. To find out what you can qualify for, hit up your state’s veterinary association.

Pro Tip

Military veterinarians earn and learn at the same time. Military scholarships can pay for the cost of training as a vet.

What is the job outlook for veterinarians?

This is a job field that is expected to grow at above-average rates according to both the BLS and the American Veterinary Medical Association. More specifically, the demand for vets is expected to grow by 17% over the next 10 years. This puts it at a pretty in-demand job since 9 percent is average.
Moreover, the average veterinarian salary is also expected to increase steadily. As we continue to rely on farm animals, commercial vets will see an especially high demand from employers. Since we can’t outsource these jobs, they are also deemed to be far more stable than a typical 9 to 5.

Is being a veterinarian worth it?

It definitely is if you love your job. For many vets, working as a veterinarian is a dream job, a vocation, and the positives outweigh the costs and struggles involved. From a purely financial perspective, the answer is yes. The cost of training as a vet is worth it, but not by as much as you would expect when you compare vet salaries to those of other careers in medicine. The good news is there are Public Service Loan Forgiveness options that can help reduce the cost of tuition.
However, working as a vet isn’t for everybody. Not only do you have to shoulder serious student loan debt, but it also includes grueling physical work and the emotional cost of treating sick animals on a daily basis. This may include intensive surgeries and euthanizing animals. In addition to the emotional toll, the average salary of a starting veterinarian isn’t as high as other medical jobs.
However, for many veterinarians, what they earn is not the biggest issue. It’s a calling for them. With that said, most veterinarians will be able to earn a fairly comfortable and cushy lifestyle as long as they budget well. Their salaries are, after all, far above the national average.

Key Takeaways

  • Veterinarians can make as little as $50,000 per year or as much as $150,000 per year.
  • Specialty vets and private practice veterinarians make the most.
  • The average salary for a veterinarian is well into the six-figure range.
  • Getting into this field requires a doctorate degree that can leave over $200,000 in debt.

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