The decision to pursue veterinary medicine is a major commitment—one that should be carefully considered. There are certainly many great reasons to become a vet, but it is important to realistically consider all aspects of the career before making a final decision. Here are seven questions that an aspiring veterinarian should consider before embarking on this challenging career path.
Can You Take on Significant Student Debt?
The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that over 90% of veterinary students must borrow to fund their veterinary education. A veterinary student generally takes on an average educational debt of $162,113 during the course of their studies. It is important to know that you might be responsible for mortgage-sized payments after graduation.
About Your Starting Veterinary Salary
The AVMA Market Research Statistics report (2013) indicated that new veterinary graduates could expect to earn an average starting salary of $67,136. The debt to income ratio has unfortunately become quite high (3:1) in recent years due to the rapidly rising cost of veterinary education. While veterinary medicine is one of the top-paying animal career paths, it can take several years for the salary to climb to a level where you will be comfortable.
Limited Friend and Family Time
It is difficult to launch a career in veterinary medicine, and it may cost you valuable time with friends and family (particularly in the early years when long hours are often necessary and expected). It can be a real challenge to balance work and home life for individuals hoping to raise a family.
Do You Plan to Pursue a Specialty?
Becoming a board-certified veterinary diplomate requires a great deal of additional training after the basic DVM degree is achieved (often three more years of study and clinical practice). There are more than a dozen specialty areas that a vet can choose from including dermatology, surgery, radiology, pathology, emergency, and critical care, internal medicine, and more. Specialists can earn much higher salaries than the average veterinarian, but there are additional educational costs incurred during their residencies. Residents do, however, earn a small salary while pursuing their board certification (reportedly an average of $30,916 in 2014).
Being a Veterinary Practice Owner
The earlier you can decide that you want to pursue practice ownership, the better. It can be a significant expense to start your own practice (or buy into an established practice), but it can lead to significantly higher earnings in the long run. In a 2009 AVMA study, partners earned an average of $40,000 more per year than associates. If you plan to pursue this path start saving early, and make the investment as soon as possible.
State or Area You Want to Work
It is important to be realistic about where you will feel comfortable practicing. There are many programs that reward veterinarians for working in underserved areas for a few years (often compensating them for up to $75,000 in student debt), but if you can’t reconcile yourself to working in such an area this won’t be a good fit for you. Be sure to make connections in the areas where you would like to work if at all possible. Also research the cost of living, area amenities, and economic prospects for success in that specific veterinary market.
Emotional and Physical Stress
Veterinary medicine can take a lot out of a practitioner both mentally and physically. The hours are long, some procedures are unpleasant, and there is the stress of having to give bad news to owners. Some vets report in surveys that they can suffer from depression and a variety of other symptoms related to stress. This can be a very rewarding job, but you have to anticipate that there will be some tough things to get through from time to time.