Recent stats and graphs of the silent victims: The Unemployed

Is there a bubble in the Australian veterinary industry?

In the early 2000′s, three vet schools were built against the advice of the Frawley report.

The resultant graduate boom is just becoming apparent.

There is still significant interest in the veterinary degree from students.  Are these prospective students aware of the financial and associated animal and human welfare concerns engorging the profession?  Or have their eyes been clouded by sources that place veterinarians on a large pedestal?

What happens when this apparent large pedestal ends up as ground zero?  The GradStats data shows that the number of veterinarians unable to find full time employment after graduation has more than doubled in the last year and QUADRUPLED in the last 6 years!

 

seeking employment

(note that pharmacy unemployment is more severe one year after graduation (not on graph) once they have completed their registration year and are no longer cheap labour.)

It is increasingly common that veterinary students have completed another degree before gaining entry which means they are often at university without income for the 6 year veterinary degree plus maybe another couple of years.  This means they are significantly behind financially compared to people completing other shorter degrees (teaching, accounting…) when they graduate.  The hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income from being at university becomes an issue for veterinarians with the high living costs in Australian cities and when they decide to start families.  Their peak career wages never reach most other occupations either.

With approximately 710 veterinary graduates each year the 21% unable to find employment in the graph would equate to about 135 people.  With 30% international and 40% domestic full fee paying that leaves 30% or 40 students that receive government funding of $28,620 per year and are unable to find employment.  For the 6 year degree these unemployed veterinary graduates cost the government and taxpayers $23.1 million last year to train.  Another 95 full fee paying students went into debt of around $250k each to complete the veterinary degree and become unemployed.  There is also the taxpayer cost of unpaid HECS if domestic students are forced to move overseas to find work.

Veterinarians have one of the lowest salaries but also one of the longest degrees and most intense with around 37.9 contact hours per week and compulsory volunteer rotations over holidays versus law degrees with 27 contact hours.

Gradstats compares the wages of 23 university degrees and the historical ranking for veterinary graduate wages are shown here:

graduate wage ranking

graduate wages

Vets have one of the lowest graduate salaries out of any profession.

CAREER LONG AVERAGES

(Sources:  medicinevet.  Note that bars represent uncertainty of average and not minimum/maximum.  Minimum/maximum wages may vary by $50k or more from the average)

Career Wages

VETS PER MILLION PETS AND PER MILLION PEOPLE

(Sources:  World BankFrawley ReportHeath 2008a, Veterinary Boards, Australian Companion Animal CouncilPratley 2012)

pet and vet stats

Traditionally the most commonly used statistic for looking at veterinarians has been per capita (brown line).  The rise in this line is concerning and suggests increasing supply with decreasing demand although demand is also dictated by the transaction per animal.  However a more appropriate statistic is possibly vets per million animals (blue line).  More than 70% of vets work with cats and dogs so focus can be placed on these species where data is available.  The extremely rapid rise of vets per million cats and dogs is very concerning and probably a considerable determinant in the rising underemployment of veterinarians.

Oversupply, Veterinary Salaries and Unemployment

GRADUATE WAGES AND UNEMPLOYMENT 2013

Current graduate wage: $46k

(Using an average 45 hour week and 2 hours on-call at 150% this equates to $18.40/hour – less than a McDonalds burger flipper!)

Trend: decreasing compared to Australian wages

Under/unemployment:  21.2% and rising

The Good Universities Guide also compares Australian university outcomes for vets:

James Cook University $46,409 and 13% unable to find employment in 2012

Murdoch $47,778 and 8% unable to find employment in 2012 ($47664 and 6% unable to find employment in 2011)

University of Melbourne $47,786 and 30% unable to find employment in 2012

University of Sydney $44,081 and 20% unable to find employment in 2012 ($44082 and 16% unable to find employment in 2011)

University of Queensland $46,393 and 33% unable to find employment in 2012 ($42912 and 11% unable to find employment in 2011)

The wage of veterinarians includes significant on-call work (night calls), weekends and evenings.  The mean weekly hours for veterinarians in the United Kingdom is 45 hours including 5 hours overtime that may or may not be paid and about 2 hours on-call.  Mixed practice veterinarians do significantly more overtime and on-call, 18 hours versus 9 hours in the New Zealand surveys.  Graduate veterinarians are also likely to perform more of the weekends, evenings and on-call because they are cheaper.  Weekend and evening work doesn’t attract extra hourly income for most veterinarians.  The hourly wage on pay checks is likely to be higher than reality because several hours are often unpaid.  The hourly rate is lower in rural areas but they usually perform more on-call work so sometimes have a slightly higher annual income.

Note that differences in employment and income for each university are likely due to the type of students (upper socioeconomic class not wanting to leave city, international students) rather than the university.  Employers usually choose graduates on personality and skills rather than university.

The most comprehensive data comes from GradStats.  These show veterinary graduate wages were $32.5k in 1999 and $45k in 2011.  This is a decrease of 15% compared to the graduate average from all courses!  And with the increasing length of the veterinary degree at some Australian universities it suggests a significantly deteriorating return on investment.  The number of unemployed graduates has also risen significantly from 4.9% to 19.2% in the same time period.

AVERAGE WAGES

Current estimate: $70k
(Possibly up to $80k.  Using an average 45 hour week and 2 hours on-call at 150% this equates to $28/hr and up to $32/hr.  Locums usually attract a 25% higher rate due to lack of holiday pay and are often in the range of $45-55/hr – see here.  Note that most locums are more experienced when compared with the overall average of all veterinarians.)

Trend: decreasing compared to Australian wages

Available average wage information is significantly more vague than graduate outcomes.  The best data comes from MPV Consulting but is probably biased towards higher earning veterinarians and shows a range from $53,182 for graduates to $93,992 for veterinarians with 10 years experience.  The most comprehensive study of Australian veterinarians was done by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which showed average wages of $52k in 2000.  Since then the ABS has only extrapolated veterinary data from their surveys on 0.33% of the Australian population.  As veterinarians are such a small portion of the population, a few veterinarians captured by this survey with significant deviations from the average may alter it significantly.  Response error is another problem and evident in their data showing 2.3% of veterinarians are 15-19 years of age, which is not possible.  However the ABS shows wages of $60.4k in 2006, $81.9k in 2011 and $67.6k in 2012!  This varies significantly to the Council of Veterinary Deans which suggested wages of $67k in 2011.  The Australian Veterinary Association and Seek suggest a career peak wage of around $76k which fits more closely with the lower figure of the Veterinary Deans.  Most veterinary jobs are advertised on specific veterinary websites so the Seek data may also be skewed.  MPV Consulting suggests Australian veterinarians earn 31.3% of the fees they charge out to clients.  DVM 360 in the United States has a spreadsheet that can determine approximate wages for vets..  The most recent wage survey was conducted by the Australian Veterinary Association in 2012 and showed median wages of full and part timer workers at less than $60,000.  However this survey has some limitations.

Veterinarians can expect to earn more for the many evenings and weekends that are normal in their job but this isn’t described in their Award like it is for other professions.  Taking 25% extra for night shifts (medical doctors get a legislated 25% for weekdays after midnight, 50% after midnight on Friday and 75% after midnight on Saturday), it could be assumed that average emergency veterinarians earn $43-53 per hour or $89k-110k per annum and utilising the MPV Consulting data up to a maximum of around $60/hr or $118k per annum with 25% extra for locum rates.

Professor Trevor Heath, previous Dean of University Queensland Veterinary Faculty, suggested veterinary wages have been decreasing compared to average Australian wages since 1977.  Using the Reserve Bank of Australia Inflation Calculator on the ABS 2000 data this would suggest veterinary wages need to be $72.5k to be matching inflation and the cost of living.

Maximum veterinary wages can be up to $200,000 for a few multi practice owners or the rare specialist (eg. specialist surgeon who owns a practice).  But most specialist advertisements after completing the three or more years of training in addition to the veterinary degree are offered at around $100-130k.  There appears to be an imminent oversupply of specialists as discussed under another post.  About one third of veterinary practice owners earn greater than $140,000. Human medical profession specialists earn on average about two to three times the maximum of the small number of veterinarians earning these higher end wages.

Individual variability is due to multiple factors including negotiation skills, generosity of the employer, replaceability, relationships with staff members, theoretical/practical skills, client communication/sales, and practice profitability.

Wages per years of experience

wages

Source: MPV Consulting http://bit.ly/13Yl7bf & RBA Inflation Calculator.  Note that MPV Consulting captures veterinarians with an interest in business and are NOT averages.  The graduate wages by MPV consulting in this table are about $10k higher than those reported by the figures that the government utilises from GradStats.

Adjustments:  25% addition for locum wages to account for lack of holiday pay, 38 hour weeks for All vets, 40 hour weeks for Mixed vets to account for on-call, 25% extra for emergency.

The Twenty Percent Rule

Many have suggested that minimum veterinary wages can roughly be estimated as 20% of the charges from the clinic eg. MPV Consulting (Australia), Washington State University, and Veterinary Business Advisors.

20 perc rule

So for example if a vet charged for 2 vaccinations, an ear cytology, and worming tablets totaling $220 in an average hour then they should be earning at least $40/hour as a full time employee or $50/hour as a locum.

Equation:  220×0.2×47/52=$40/hr

Years are based on 47 weeks and 38 hours per week.  Note that for on-call work, many use the 50 percent rule.

WORKING CONDITIONS

There is a dearth of data on Australian veterinary employment contracts.  In Britain we know that students enter the profession with high debt and can have harsh conditions imposed by employers.  We also know that British veterinarians have a suicide rate twice that of dentists and four times that of the general population.  Dr Bartram in the British Veterinary Record discusses various possible causes of veterinary suicide from euthanasia to finances.  Dr Bartram also shows evidence that one third of medical practitioner suicides are due to financial difficulties.  In Australia APESMA has looked at pharmacists and found that many are too fearful to notify of illegal working conditions.  In fact 25% of pharmacy students would recommend a different career due to oversupply and they only have graduate unemployment of 1.9% compared with 19.2% for veterinary graduates.  Utilising this information it might be assumed that veterinarians are treated more poorly than pharmacists.

FUTURE

The veterinary degree is already listed as the worst return on investment in Australia by Compare Courses due to the high number of years out of the workforce and costs of the degree along with the wages that are less than half that of medical doctors.  The Huffington Post suggests a similar poor return in the United States.  There are also significant ongoing costs for veterinarians including registration (approx $200 per state per annum), radiograph license (approx $100 per state per annum), indemnity insurance, income protection insurance for illness, microchip license, compulsory continuing education ($1000-2000+ per year for conferences /journal subscriptions /extra qualifications plus associated time), professional memberships ($300-600+ per year).  In addition a practice owner needs to pay for a business number, hospital registration, pathology/xray/ultrasound… equipment, rent/electricity, staff… which can all total hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

The April 2012 Australian Veterinary Journal (p19) suggests a bleak outlook due to a massive rise in the number of veterinary graduates.  Over the last decade the number of veterinary universities has gone from four to seven against the advice of the Frawley Report for government.  Australia already has 30% more veterinarians than the United Kingdom and United States.  The percentage of companion animal veterinarians has increased to 80% whilst the number of companion animals continues to decline.  This is likely due to increased housing density and workforce mobility making it difficult to keep pets.  Other inhibitors of pet ownership may include concerns regarding puppy/kitten farming/euthanasia, the 10-20 year commitment required for a pet, and thousands of dollars required for pet care.

Recent data suggests an oversupply of veterinarians by 50% in Australia.  Professor Heath suggested there will be “overt signs of oversupply” ie. unemployment or underemployment (such as veterinarians employed as veterinary nurses).

Veterinarian ‘Joseph Knecht’ from the student doctor network had this to say on the US situation which has similar issues:

Thirty years paying back a $200K student loan [or not getting a job], not making enough money maybe to save for your own retirement/kid’s education/modest home of your own, still living like a student for many years after graduation; all for the “dream” of saving animal’s lives for owners who will place their financial well being ahead of their pet’s life (sometimes for very sound reasons)….It is so . . . priceless.

According to a 2012 survey by a United Kingdom animal charity, PDSA, 17% of pet owners would give up their pet if costs became too high.  Veterinarians are asked to kill animals because owners don’t want to pay for treatment.  In fact cost related euthanasia is the biggest cause of death for pets with diabetes.  Cost is also a reason that some owners don’t heed veterinary advice and their animals may suffer as a result.  Should these people have purchased animals in the first instance if they haven’t planned financially for their care?  Owner financial issues have a close link with the economic sustainability of the veterinary profession.

REFERENCES

Veterinary Science. Good Universities Guide. http://www.gooduniguide.com.au/School-Leavers/Fields-of-Study/Veterinary-science

Graduate Career Outcomes Australia. http://www.graduatecareers.com.au/research/researchreports/gradstats/

Veterinary Economics. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/mf/8564.0/

Veterinary Science Income 2006. My Future. Australian Government http://www.myfuture.edu.au/The%20Facts/Work%20and%20Employment/Occupations/Details.aspx?anzsco=234711A

Veterinary Science Income 2011. Poor statistics. Job Outlook. Australian Government http://joboutlook.gov.au/pages/occupation.aspx?search=alpha&tab=stats&cluster&code=2347

How much do vets earn? Australian Veterinary Association http://www.ava.com.au/node/5415

Veterinary wages. MPV Consulting http://www.mpvconsulting.com.au/mpv_downloads/MPVNewsletterIssue5.pdf

Why vets need union assistance. British Veterinary Union. http://www.vets4bvu.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Why-vets-need-union-assistance.pdf
Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk. British Veterinary Record.
http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/166/13/388.abstract

Pharmacist APESMA Skilled Occupation List Submission to Government Immigration Departmenthttp://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:94aFMAoU7ccJ:www.awpa.gov.au/labour-market-information/skilled-occupation-list/submissions-from-industry-stakeholders/documents/APESMAPharmacistsDivision.rtf+apesma+pharmacy+sol+submission&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au&client=safari

Students fear pharmacist oversupply. Pharmacy News. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ddeXk9KTgcAJ:www.pharmacynews.com.au/getmedia/9b48511a-2f8c-41b7-9fbf-375577cfed40/20110530_Newsletter.aspx?&hl=en&gl=au

Economic Sustainability of the Veterinary Profession. Australian Veterinary Journal 2012 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-0813.2012.news_v90_i4.x/abstract

Frawley Report on Veterinary Services. Australian Veterinary Association http://www.ava.com.au/sites/default/files/documents/Other/Frawley%20report.pdf

Number, distribution and concentration of Australian veterinarians in 2006, compared with 1981, 1991 and 2001. Australian Veterinary Association http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18616482

Declining Companion Animal Numbers. Australian Companion Animal Council Report. http://www.acac.org.au/ACAC_Report_2010.html

Veterinary Education. Oversupply. Agricultural Science Journal 2012 http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=404921340616954;res=IELHSS

Number, distribution and concentration of Australian veterinarians in 2006, compared with 1981, 1991 and 2001. Oversupply. Australian Veterinary Journal http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18616482

I’m a vet. Now what? Locum, Specialising, Buying, UK/USA/HK/NZ, Changing Career

Most veterinarians have made their veterinary career decision at around the age of 13 because they want to work with animals.  The high school years are focussed on achieving high marks to get into the course and possibly some cleaning duties at a local veterinary clinic to gain experience.  Those who take the most direct university course will graduate after 5 years of university at the age of about 23 but others take several more years.  At graduation they have proved that they were capable of the challenging, time consuming and expensive feat (university fees & lost income).  Their dreams have been met and they have shown their family and peers that they are capable.  But this is only the beginning of a career that stretches for maybe 35 years.  Those that get a job and gain experience will re-evaluate their situation after 1-2 years.  What now?

CHANGING CAREER – Non-veterinary pursuits

Career change is a likely option for the increasing number of unemployed veterinary graduates, some who are concerned about the financial situation of the profession, or those who believe they can better assist animals/society in other ways.  The negative side of this is that most of these professions could have been accessed more easily had the individual been more aware of the problems of the veterinary industry and chosen a different degree at an earlier stage.  Professor Heath in the Australian Veterinary Journal has shown that veterinarians change profession for several reasons such as seeking more of a challenge or poor working conditions.  Many veterinarians have several hours where they have little or no work and it is likely that this will become worse as the market becomes saturated.  This will lead to loss of mental stimulation and further drives to change profession.  Other veterinarians may choose to change because of the financial pressure to overservice patients as clinics struggle to survive.

Examples of other careers that veterinarians have pursued include accounting, medicine, law, dentistry, swimming lesson teacher, train driver, fire services, pole dancing, model, fashion commentator, and school teaching.  A careers brochure from a university fair suggested the following companies accept applications from veterinary graduates:  ANZ, FINSIA, NAB, Noble Resources, Tive Consulting, Unilever, BP, Abercrombie & Fitch, Agriplacements Australia, ALDI, IBM, Kraft Foods, Mars Australia, WSP Group, Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Taxation Office, Defence Force, Department of Defence, Department of Innovation, and DSE/DEPI government.  Completing another university course requires significant costs and time to complete although most feel happier after the transition.  There is a good discussion on Paging Dr (free forum) by a group of Australian vets that have changed into medicine regarding the pros and cons of the veterinary profession versus medicine.  Some vets may choose medicine because it allows a higher standard of care with more evidence basis and less cost constraints.  Medicine also offers salaries that are more than double that of veterinarians according to the Medical Journal of Australia with average specialist wages of $316,570 and general practitioner wages of $177,883.  There have been reports than several Australian medical faculties have about one vets per year level that are changing into medicine.  Considering there are twenty medical faculties in Australia this would equate to 20 vets changing into medicine each year.  This  is more than the number that are becoming veterinary specialists as only 10 gained fellowships in 2012!

Training in nursing, police force and teaching have higher returns compared with vets.  Medicine still requires about 4-5 years of university plus 5 years of exams whilst working with significant failure rates.  Doing a veterinary degree instead of a science degree may make it harder to gain entry to medicine because it is more difficult to get good marks.  The benefits/costs of some degrees such as MBA’s need to be critically analysed and even high demand degrees like Engineering have around 40% of students drop out of the course and about half of graduates not working as Engineers according to an Australian Government 2012 Senate Committee.  It is important that veterinarians consider a career change as early as possible even whilst as a veterinary student.  Wasted years at university or in an obsolete career can cause problems raising a family or progressing in a new career.  One may want to consult sources such as the Grattan Institutes 2012 research into lifetime earnings for degrees or the Australian governments Job Outlook remembering that in some areas such as law, only the best students will get jobs in high end law firms.

Examples of some Australians who have changed direction (look for the BVSc):

Chris Baggoley, Vet to Medicine, Australian Chief Medical Officer

More examples of vet to medicine:  Toowoomba Chronicle and Rural & Remote Medicine News

Sandy, Vet to Finance.  Also Brenda.

Anne and Paolo, Vet to Accounting

David, Vet to Law

Denis Napthine, Vet to Politics.  Also Tracey, Vet to Councillor.

Sarah, Vet to Pole Dancer

Kirsten, Vet to School Teacher.  Also Alison.

Anthony, Vet to Dentist.

Laura, Vet to Agricultural Science which has higher wages.

MORE NON-VETERINARY OPTIONS

Research/Academia/Government/Pharmaceutical/Wildlife/’One Health’

Over two in ten veterinary students want to work in veterinary areas outside of companion/farm animal practice but only one in ten veterinarians work in these atypical fields in the United Kingdom.  In Australia almost two in ten veterinarians work in non-veterinary roles.  This will likely rise with the graduate boom and struggles to find employment.  Most people interested in these jobs are likely to complete a shorter science or political degree instead of a veterinary degree and possibly obtain a Masters or PhD.  Hence some refer to these positions as non-veterinary whilst other may classify them as non-clinical.  There are limited job options for veterinarians in these fields which are offered primarily at universities or in Canberra as outlined in a previous post.

Pharmaceutical roles may include technical services or marketing in companies such as Pfizer/Zoetis, Novartis, Hills, Bayer, MSD, Troy, CSL, Elanco, Eukanuba, Zebravet, Therapon, Provet.  The United States has far more options in the pharmaceutical field including research.  Entry to government roles usually requires obtaining cadetships and entry to a graduate program with applications from February of the final student year.  You can see the trials and tribulations of an American student seeking and gaining an internship in a government field on Elliott Garber’s page.  The increasing number of graduates who are becoming unemployed will find it difficult to enter these graduate programs because their unemployment status will only be realised after several months of job searching.  By this stage graduate and cadetship applications are closed.  The numbers of government veterinarians in Australia has decreased from 50% employment to 10% employment of veterinarians over the last few years so this domain looks unlikely to provide much assistance to job seekers.  In 2013 the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was removed, a previous domain of government veterinary employment.  There have been suggestions in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that other professions are prioritised over vets for government public health roles.

The main aspiration of most veterinarians is to work with animals making these non-animal roles less appealing.  The cost and time of completing a PhD or another degree to enter into these areas is also prohibitive to many.  The outcomes of pursuing a PhD may not live up to expectations according to The Economist (see also  The Australian or another article from Nature journal).

A recent Canadian Veterinary Journal article suggested that one in five government, academic and research veterinarians made the transition because they were “disillusioned” by private practice.  The Canadian article also shows wages of around $110,000 and a decreasing trend.  Australia also appears to be having troubles:  “…the ranks of government employed veterinarians in the field have declined significantly in recent years.”  Australian government veterinary salaries appear to be between $65,000 for graduates and up to $110,000 according to the NSW award.  Similar wages are found in federal government, Canberra, under the Enterprise agreement for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry DAFF Graduate Program.  So academic careers provide an option for those veterinarians wishing to contribute to scientific knowledge.  Although not amazing income compared with the years of study for completing a veterinary degree AND a PhD, it does seem to provide better working hours and conditions than as a general practioner.

Examples of ‘One Health’/Zoonoses areas where there are many Science graduates compared with veterinary graduates.:

CSIRO Animal Laboratory, Victoria:  23 head researchers, mostly non-veterinarians.  However there are hundreds of researchers associated with CSIRO and some of these have veterinary backgrounds

Avian Influenza, World Health Organisation, Victoria:  28 researchers, NO veterinarians

CLINICAL OPTIONS

Compulsory Continuing Education

A legal requirement for vets.  Conferences can cost $1000+ for transport, time off work, accommodation, and course costs.  Lots of the information presented at conferences can be anecdotal or non-peer reviewed however it is a great way to network and possibly find your next employee/employer.  The veterinary association and Vetprac also offer practical workshops.  Journal subscriptions can be quite expensive but discounts can often be gained by joining a local or international veterinary association.  Free continuing education can be done by visiting specialists, lectures run by specialists, GoogleBooks, IVIS, WikiVet, DVM360, some VIN free access sites, university websites and some open access journals (Canadian & Irish vet journals).  It may also be possible to get discounted journal subscriptions through the university alumni.  Formal Masters or Postgraduate Certificates are offered at universities and often cost multiple thousands of dollars.  Memberships through the ANZCVS seem to be an economical choice to add postnominals to your name and work towards specialty or career movement into pathology/universities.  It is difficult to determine how much value courses add to career advancement.  Surgery and possibly pathology seem to be reasonable options.

Associate

The majority of veterinarians fill this category and are in companion animal practice.  Many are satisfied providing health care to companion animals for reasons such as diversity of work and being able to work with animals despite the low wages.  A passion for customer service and learning must be maintained throughout the career as veterinary technical knowledge rapidly advances with research.  Weekend and evening work is standard for most veterinarians.  A couple of ways to improve income include working night shifts or longer hours by obtaining shifts at more than one clinic.  As surgery is a procedure that requires practical skill and can’t be easily learnt by reading books, it would seem to be a skill that could give an employment advantage..  Unlike other medical professions rural wages are usually lower and hours longer for veterinarians.  A few companion animal practices in mining towns buck this trend.  Some may find it prohibitive to specialise or change into another area due to social, family or financial (eg. mortgage) commitments as suggested in the Australian Veterinary Journal.  This may cause a feeling of entrapment in line with Bartram’s research in the British Veterinary Record.

Australian Locum

Many in the veterinary profession feel that locums earn a better income.  However benefits such as sick leave, annual leave, employment security, often super and study leave are often forgotten in this assumption.  A locum generally needs to be earning 25% more to break even with a full time employee which would equate to $87-100k ($45-50 per hour).  With the current Australian veterinary job market trends it is difficult to imagine that many locum vets will be able to fill the entire calendar year with work.  The other major costs to locum vets in Australia include transportation, accommodation, indemnity insurance and veterinary registration in multiple states.  For long term locums, registering as a business through the Australian Taxation Office can be beneficial.  Most long term locum vets often need to travel interstate to gain employment often leaving their family and friends behind although this may allow them to meet others.  Information on wellbeing and frequent travel can be found in relation to mining fly in-fly out workers although this has a rural focus.

Locum veterinarians may consider creating an ABN (free) and invoicing clinics for work so that various expenses can be claimed on tax although there are various pros/cons.  Locums should also be careful to check what arrangements are in place for insurance, super and GST.  In the United Kingdom the ABN equivalent is a limited company.

Abroad

Moving abroad can be a good decision financially.  Socially it can be a good way to create new networks but it may challenge relationships in Australia.  Whilst going abroad can increase job progression in many other professions this isn’t necessarily the case for vets.

United Kingdom

Traditionally almost one fifth of graduates have gone to the United Kingdom but most of these return to Australia within 5 years according to Professor Heath’s research in the Australian Veterinary Journal.  However in 2011 the UK decided to remove veterinarians from their skilled immigration list which means Australian residents will only be eligible for a 1 year working holiday visa.  The UK made this move because of declining economic figures for the veterinary profession.  It seems unusual that Australia still has veterinarians on their skilled immigration list despite Australian veterinary salaries being $70,000 which is lower than the UK on AUD$75,000.  However averages released in 2012 by HMRC suggest UK vet wages are £32,970 (approximately AUD$50,739).  UK graduate salaries are lower than Australia on AUD$37,500 which could be partly due to EU financial issues.  Three years after graduation UK grads are barely above Australian salaries at graduation on about AUD$48,000.  Interestingly vet graduate salaries are second out of nineteen professions in the UK whereas in Australia they are nineteenth out of twenty three.  Locum work in the UK, unlike Australia, often includes provision of accommodation and sometimes a car.  Unemployment for veterinary graduates is at 4-10%.  There are concerns this could rise with the new veterinary schools in Nottingham and Surrey.

North America

Several North Americans study the veterinary course in Australia at universities that have AVMA accreditation.  Those who want to work in North America need to complete the National American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE).  Because this exam covers all species and many components of the course that aren’t utilised in the daily practice of a regular companion animal veterinarian it is quite difficult to pass the exam if time has lapsed since graduation.  The financial rewards are good in North America with median wages of $88,000 for general practitioners or $148,000 for those who take the long specialist training in 2013.  This appears to be a decrease from 2009 with median wages of US$120,303 for all private veterinarians (mostly non-specialists).  Canada appears to be similar with clinic owners out earning employees and companion animal vets earning about 35% more than farm animal vets on an hourly rate.  There has been some growth with 2012 data suggesting associate Canadian wages of around $80k.  2013 Canadian data suggests averages ranging form $70-80k which is similar to Australia.  There are some financial concerns for veterinarians in North America are related to oversupply and the increases in tuition (see NCVEI Elephant in the room or April letters to the editor in the AVMA journal).  Patty Khuly a veterinarian who has authored many articles in major newspapers such as the NY Times and USA today had this to say:

Ultimately, I believe this means that a large percentage of young vets will be skills starved, demoralized and debt ridden. I predict depression, divorce and a less enthusiastic contribution — now and in the future — to a profession that has effectively failed them.

Australian veterinarians may be eligible for an E3 visa to work in North America.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has offered high salaries and low taxes for English speaking Australian veterinarians.  The weekly hour loads are often longer than in Australia.  This destination has historically proved fruitful because it has a reasonable GDP per capita and no veterinary university.  However things will change as Cornell opens a veterinary faculty in 2014 and City University plans to open veterinary faculty in 2014.  This could lead to difficulties finding employment for Hong Kong veterinarians.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Veterinary Association salary scale review in 2011 suggests that graduates are out earning their Australian counterparts on $52k.  Two factors leading to this contrast include the rural bonding scheme and the higher proportion of rural jobs in New Zealand.  As has been discussed previously rural veterinarians work many more hours than companion animal veterinarians leading to a higher overall wage but lower hourly rates.  Government figures show an average of $72,600 in 2012 but this decreased to $70,900 in 2013 which implies worsening oversupply.  Massey University uses figures from 2004 which also suggest New Zealand veterinarians are earning more than Australians with an average of $77k.  However the New Zealand Veterinary Council workforce survey 2010-2011 suggests that only 60-65% of veterinarians retain their registration 5-10 years after their first registration date.  The 2011-2012 survey suggests similar statistics with one third of veterinarians not registering two years after graduation.  The government website suggests that many leave New Zealand for better pay.  Many New Zealand veterinarians leave the profession due to low wages and long hours which is indicative of an oversupplied profession, falsely labelled as a shortage in this article.

Practice Purchase

If one’s sole intent was to become a practice owner, they could leave school in year 10 or year 12, take out a loan, and purchase a veterinary practice without taking on the burden of university and years out of the workforce.  More veterinarians are coming under the control of non-veterinary owners and managers.  Legislation allowing non-veterinary ownership varies depending on location.  Practice ownership can allow a clinician to have more freedom in clinic layout/design, operations and staff.  Limited open access data is available on practice profitability in Australia.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics suggested between 12.7% and 16% returns in 2000 and the 2010 MPV Consulting data seem to concur with this.  Factors affecting practice profits include the quality of veterinarians, socioeconomic factors of clientele and the location of competitors.  As wage discrepancies increase between employees and employers or if unemployment increases the incentive to purchase a practice becomes higher.  Secondary household income earners, part timers or those responsible for child care are less likely to purchase a practice.

Data from MPV Consulting suggested a practice owner wage of $81,450 in 2006 which would equate to $94,167 today with inflation.  At the upper end an article in the Australian Veterinary Journal in 2007 suggested one third of practice owners receive greater than $140,000.  Practice ownership usually requires a significant loan (hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars), extra hours of accounting/managerial work and a long term outlook but does provide financial benefits over being an associate.  Buying a practice within the first few years after graduation usually has financial advantages compared with buying later.  If an existing practice is to be purchased it is best to not work there as an employee for long because the purchase price will include goodwill that has been built by that employee.  Many owners will choose not to purchase the real estate as it can be more difficult to sell.  It is likely that with increasing numbers of veterinarians and non-veterinary owners we will see increased numbers of practices and challenges deriving substantial returns.

Specialise

The ACVS is the accrediting body for specialist veterinarians in Australia.  The standards expected by the public are continually rising and veterinary graduates are seeking higher pay and status.  For these reasons we have seen increased numbers of veterinary specialists.  There has also been a larger interest in internships by graduating veterinarians possibly because they want to obtain more practical skills before working.  Specialty status can be gained after 5 years of veterinary employment in addition to the 5 year veterinary degree and usually requires a supervised residency by an accredited specialist mentor with exams.  Internships and residencies often involve low wages, intense study regimes, possible night shifts and several veterinarians do not pass the fellowship exams initially.  At least half of those who do internships don’t go onto specialty training and would have been better not doing an internship.  Due to the limited availability of residencies in Australia some choose to go to Europe or North America for residency training.  It may be an idea for those wanting to specialise to sit the NAVLE shortly after graduating so they can get locum work in the United States whilst doing residency training.

There has been some concerns expressed that students sitting specialist exams in Australia face the problem of their examiners protecting turf and being more likely to give fail marks.  Australian specialist qualifications are not recognised overseas whilst American and European specialists are recognised in Australia.  Job availability is reduced upon specialist accreditation and are usually at universities or a few specialist centres and people may need to accept interstate jobs away from family and friends.  Some specialties allow reduced weekend work.  The AVMA journal has a nice analysis of payoff for specialising and practice purchase in North America.  The AVMA has also collected data on income for the various specialties with ophthalmologists and laboratory animal vets being highest (click print).  It is likely that Australian laboratory animal vets aren’t placed as highly due to the lack of pharmaceutical companies.

Malcolm Getz, Professor of Economics suggests that specialists in all professions when in equilibrium experience a quadratic increase in income which justifies the extra costs of training.  Recent job advertisements for specialist surgeons in Australia have been around $130-140k although rare jobs have been advertised at $200k.  Although universities usually hire specialists at around $100k.  It is difficult to track trends on this limited and crude data but due to the small number of specialists in Australia a small increase in specialist numbers could lead to deterioration of income and employment prospects.  The number of registered specialists have increased by 4% per year for the last 5 years in NSW.  Numbers sitting for specialist exams have more than doubled over the last 5 years.  The pass rate for memberships has gone from 80% in 2009 to 72% in 2012.  Fellowship pass rates were 60% in 2011.  As fellowship exams must be finished within 3 years it is quite likely that some residents never become specialists.  Each specialty area will also have differing trends which will vary greatly but increasing numbers suggests a move towards oversupply.  Human medical specialists earn about two to three times that of veterinary specialists.  It is quite likely that specialist wages are decreasing and opportunities are becoming more limited due to saturation.

I’m a vet student, now what?

So you signed up for the veterinary degree and have learnt that getting a job and career progression are difficult.  Well it is important to gain experience and look at graduate programs in other industries about 2 years before you graduate.  Those looking at transferring to medicine will need to sit the GAMSAT almost a year before commencing the course.  This is because vacation work in other industries is usually offered in the penultimate (year before graduation) summer for most degrees.  It could cost you another 3-5 years at university doing another degree to change profession if you leave it until after graduation as suggested here:

Synstrat Newsletter 2006

“We suggest that recent veterinary graduates need to assess their probability of becoming an owner/partner in a practice of suitable size and profitability [or specialise]. If this is unlikely, then they may be better off competing for graduate entry jobs in national and international businesses. Many businesses recruit from a selection of graduates with good degrees rather than particular degrees on the basis that they are looking for qualities which are likely to be found amongst this graduate pool. This opportunity disappears within a couple of years of graduation.”

http://www.synstrat.com.au/PDFs/vetnews/vetcareerprospectsMaypdf2006.pdf

Australian Veterinary Journal 2012 April

“The stress of pay rates and on-call hours are not recognised until after commencement of employment when some may consider non-practice careers. By this stage there is a competitive disadvantage in the job market for non-practice positions because knowledge is out-of-date and graduate programs are no longer possible in these other areas.”
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-0813.2012.news_v90_i4.x/abstract

The Australian Veterinary Association has also encouraged veterinarians to consider buying a practice or practices to improve the extremely low wages.

It is often only in hindsight that veterinary graduates will realise that they should have looked at other options before graduation.  This is because veterinary employers will only advertise about a month before jobs become available unlike large companies that often offer graduate positions about a year prior to commencement.  Therefore it is usually too late once a veterinarian has graduated and is unemployed.

Unigrad is one spot to look for requirements of vacation and graduate programs for careers in non-veterinary fields:  http://www.unigrad.com.au/home/ or Graduate Opportunities.  Business, accounting and many other employers will take intelligent graduates from various degrees.  Think outside the box.

There are significant barriers for veterinary students in gaining non-clinical jobs.  Vacation work in other non-clinical fields is often not possible for veterinary students because there is a requirement to complete 16 weeks of extramural animal work in the first four years of the degree during vacations.  This animal work is prescriptive in species requirements and is compulsory to achieve graduation.  This prevents veterinary students from conducting non-clinical vacation work which is often a requirement for alternative non-veterinary graduate positions.

In addition the final clinical year of a veterinary degree usually requires 10 months of clinical placements.  Many of these have requirements for rural work and long hours meaning that veterinary students have difficulties undertaking part time or casual work during this year.  Many students from other degrees complete paid cadetships or non-clinical work during their final year which propels them towards graduate positions.  It is for some of these reasons that some veterinary students decide to transfer into other degrees to improve their prospects.

Suggestions:

1. Look for Summer internships in some of the non-veterinary or non-clinical areas mentioned.  Applications are usually done around June-August at least one and a half years before graduation.

2. Look for graduate programs as per point 1.  Applications are usually done around March in the final year before graduation.

Top tips for getting the job

Google is a ruthless tool to gather a broad array of information on how to apply and get the job you want.  Veterinary employers often look for personality (see Australian Veterinary Journal or Journal of Veterinary Medical Education).  Therefore jobs in customer service or practicing communication through other methods (mirror, drama…) may assist.  The soon to be graduate should focus on creating as many networks with practitioners as possible.  It is also important to maximise skills that will be important to the job such as surgery.  The student externships/interships must be used to gain experience on client communication and surgery which often have minimal exposure at university but are crucial to being an effective vet.  The soon to be graduate should also note that most veterinarians work with companion animals and therefore most jobs will be in this domain.  This may include applying for Australian Veterinary Association representation and attending some of the free veterinary practitioner seminars offered by specialist centres and universities.  In the months leading to graduation the various online job boards can be monitored and targeted emails sent to clinics regardless of whether they are advertising with follow up phone calls.

The Academy of Rural veterinarians has some info on how to obtain a job and what to expect:  http://www.ruralvets.com/associations/9333/files/New%20Grad%20Survival%20Guide.pdf

The Medical Students Association has a great guide on how to look after yourself during your first job which is quite transferable to veterinary graduates: http://media.amsa.org.au/publications/keeping_your_grass_greener_2011.pdf

High Performance Vets helps employee veterinarians increase their turnover and improve their income.

The AVA also has some tips in their new graduate guide:  https://www.ava.com.au/sites/default/files/private/New_Graduate_Guide_2007.pdf

REFERENCES

Career Change: Veterinary Science to medicine? Paging Dr Forum, http://pagingdr.net/forum/index.php?topic=4293.0

Longitudinal study of veterinary students and veterinarians: the first 20 years, Changing Careers, Australian Veterinary Journal http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-0813.2007.00172.x/abstract

Veterinary surgeons and suicide: a structured review of possible influences on increased risk, Veterinary Record http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/166/13/388.abstract

Recent veterinary graduates over the last five decades: the first 10 years, Australian Veterinary Journal http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-0813.2005.tb11586.x/abstract

Profession no longer on ‘Skills Shortage List’, Royal College Veterinary Surgeons Newsletter UK http://www.rcvs.org.uk/publications/rcvs-news-november-2011/

Veterinary Surgeon Pay, Royal College Veterinary Surgeons Newsletter UK http://www.rcvs.org.uk/publications/rcvs-news-extra-october-2010/

Veterinary Graduate Wages, UK Government http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/science-technology/STEMsubjects/STEMevidence.pdf

American Veterinary Medical Aassociation Salary Survey USA, DVM 360 http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dvm/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=713845

Oversupply Veterinarians, Journal American Veterinary Medical Association Letters to Editor April  http://avmajournals.avma.org/loi/javma/

Hong Kong Cornell University Opening http://cornellsun.com/node/49803

Veterinary Income, Australian Bureau of Statistics http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8564.0/

Veterinary Practice Income, MPV Consulting Australia http://www.mpvconsulting.com.au/mpv_downloads/MPVNewsletterIssue5.pdf

Comparison of long-term financial implications for five veterinary career tracks, Journal American Veterinary Medical Association http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.237.4.369

Vetlink Australian specialist and general vet advertisements http://vetlink.com.au/

Doctoral degrees – The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time http://www.economist.com/node/17723223