How Much do Vets get Paid? (salary vs debt)

It is a common perception that veterinarians earn a fortune and that they are able to fund really extravagant lifestyles.

But just how much do vets make? How does this relate to the amount of debt that they graduate vet school with? And how does a veterinary salary compare to other professions?

how much vets make - UK + US veterinarian salary

While it is true that there are going to be some veterinarians within the profession earning seriously big money, they are definitely the exception and will have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are today. I’m thinking specifically of those who have climbed the corporate practice ladder or own multiple clinics. The 1% of the 1%.

But how much does your average veterinarian earn? Because believe me, some are suffering from severe financial hardship to do the job they feel they were born to do.

US Veterinarian Salary

After 8 years of university education, veterinarians fresh out of vet school can expect to earn an average of $76,000.

This is going to vary considerably by state, just like the average salary of more experienced veterinarians.

In Hawaii, the average veterinarian wage is just short of $200,000. I’m not quite sure what Hawaiian vets are doing differently, as the states with the next highest veterinarian salary are New Jersey, New York, California, and Nevada at about £123,000 per year.

At the other end of the spectrum, the states with the lowest average veterinarian salary are Arkansas, Nebraska, Montanna, Mississippi, and Utah, where veterinarians are typically being paid an annual salary of less than $80,000.

For those who decide to take on the challenge of owning their own veterinary clinic, the average salary can climb considerably to an average of $280,000.

The Cost of Going to Vet School

Becoming a veterinarian is no easy feat. Not only is competition for places in vet school among the highest of all other courses, the time spent training is huge. In the US, up to 4 year of undergraduate study followed by 4 years of post-graduate study needs to be completed before someone can call themselves a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

That time, as well as the nature of the vet course, means that the level of debt that ends up being acquired to become a veterinarian in the US is astronomical.

The average amount of debt that a vet student will graduate with is said to be $140,000. The reality though is worse. If we exclude all of those individuals who got through their training loan-free (presumably through family financing), the average level of debt a new veterinarian graduates with is actually $167,000.

At least 20% of veterinarians leave vet school with a debt of over $200,000!

This all means that even with what initially appears to be a healthy salary, the majority of veterinarians are burdened with massive levels of debt that takes years and years to pay off. For some, the home of clearing their student loan remains but a distant dream.

The resulting stress and worry undoubtedly play a huge role in the level of burnout, compassion fatigue, and even suicide rates among veterinarians.

UK Veterinarian Salary

On graduation, veterinarians in the UK are better placed than their US cousins with a starting salary averaging £28,000. This is second only to medics and dentists who earn an impressive wage of about £36,500 a year on graduation. 

Where things are really different though is that as a veterinarian progresses through their career, career growth stagnates and even goes backward.

The average UK veterinarian earns £41,000 but, once inflation is taken into consideration, a vet who has been graduated for 10 years actually makes less money than they did at the three and five-year mark.

Practice owners fair little better, with an average take-home salary of £50,000 pounds.

Student Debt

Let's consider again move on to consider the amount of debt that a new veterinarian will graduate with in the UK.

Currently, since tuition fees rose to 9,000 pounds a year (I’m fortunate to have graduated in the distant past when fees were only $1000/year), that level of student debt is approximately £57,000 pounds. 

This is expected to climb though, and by 2021 reach a level of £82,000.

That is a huge amount of debt to start your career with, and it is very unlikely that most veterinarians are going to pay this off in their working lifetime.

Vet Earnings vs Other Professionals

A lot of people (vets included!) will compare the salary of veterinarians with medical doctors, and a common assumption is that their wages are fairly comparable. This is understandable given that the skills and training involved before graduation are not all that different.

Also, vet school is actually harder to get into than medical school, meaning that those who choose to dedicate their lives treating animals really are among the brightest young people entering higher education.

In fact, human doctors in the UK earn, on average, twice as much as veterinarians, increasing to 3 times as much in the US.

And as for veterinary salaries compared to 2 other popular professions, lawyers and accountants, you can check out the annual wage comparison chart below:

1st year Vet Average Vet Clinic Owner 1st year Doctor (MD) Average Doctor Lawyer Accountant
$76,000 $100,000 $280,000 >$51,000 $294,000 $120,000 $78,000
£28,000 $41,000 $50,000 £36,000 £90,000 $76,000 £62,000

What do you think? Do vets earn more or less than you thought, and did you know about their level of student debt?

A rich vet is a rare creature…but then that’s not why we do what we do!

Money isn’t everything and, just like any job, veterinary medicine has it’s pro’s and con’s. Fine out more in my post all about the best and worst parts of being a veterinarian.