One of my constant, joking refrains goes something like, “…When I’m rich and famous, working as a vet, I’ll be able to afford that little lakefront cottage.” But if you’re poking around the veterinary medicine field for the money, you are more than a little lost. Whoever told you vets are in it for the money is making a joke: you see, veterinarians don’t see 100% of that vet bill. Veterinary medicine differs from human medicine in that vets must tailor both restraint and medical tools to fit the animal species, which means that practice owners must invest in specialty equipment if they wish to practice medicine safely and efficiently.
And even if veterinarians don’t start their own business practice, most make expensive monthly payments on their educational debt. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports an average of $18,000 for in-state yearly tuition and $38,000 for out-of-state for the 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine. That doesn’t sound all that bad until you realize that most students have exhausted their funds paying for the prerequisite undergraduate courses. According to a 2012 survey by the AVMA, 89.2% of vet students expected to borrow more than $151,000. (In case you were wondering, the federal government calculates a monthly payment of $961.29 for 25 years under the extended repayment plan, if you had $138,500 in initial debt. Here’s a link to the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program website, which walks you through the most common repayment schedules and also includes the handy-dandy chart from which I took the above statistic. http://www.mgslp.org/managing-your-loan/repayment-schedule )
Factor in the money spent on prerequisite undergraduate courses— which averaged $14,300 a year at public institutions and $23,300 a year for private for-profit institutions in 2012 according to the National Center for Education Statistics—and you start to realize that becoming a veterinarian can cost anywhere from $129,200 to $245,200. People are spending big bucks to become educated as licensed veterinarians. But what sort of return are they making on such an educational investment? The AVMA estimates the median entering salary of veterinarians to be $65,404 in 2012, which is comparable to the salary of a business operations manager, a computer programmer, or a commercial pilot, according to CareerOverview.com.
Nope, vets aren’t in it for the money. We’re in it for the science, for the thrill of puzzling out diagnoses, and for the love of animals and their role in human lives—those are some of my reasons, anyway. But determining the true costs and gains of life as a veterinarian is not as simple as just adding up the money spent and the money received. I may not have begun my four years at veterinary school yet, but my thousands of hours spent in the classroom, in the field, and in the clinic have given me a wealth of knowledge about the veterinary profession, and I get more passionate about my field every day. For me, the monetary investment is worth all this hard work and sacrifice, but you will have to make that decision for yourself.
** If you are interested in more information about the costs of attending vet school, I suggest the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges website (www.aavmc.org), which has great links for information about careers, applying to schools, and preparation tips as well. Also, tuition varies greatly depending on the school and whether you are applying as an in-state or out-of-state resident, so I suggest using the AAVMC website to find colleges near you, then going directly to that college’s website to begin researching costs.