Workforce News 2014/2013

The veterinary profession in Australia is small with about 10,000 full time workers although rapidly expanding.  There is a dearth of freely accessible independent information on issues relating to veterinary workforce changes and how these may impact on animal welfare.  This site hopes to review the available information and concerns regarding future employment prospects.  International veterinary workforce issues, alternative veterinary employment and relevant other professions are utilised as examples. Australia has at least 30% more veterinarians per capita than the United States and United Kingdom.  California has a population of 38 million with two veterinary schools whilst Australia has 23 million people and seven veterinary schools.  There will be a 50% increase in the number of Australian veterinary graduates between 2008 and 2013.  Unemployment, underemployment and declining wages are appearing.

Main Sections: – Wages & Unemployment – The Increasingly Common Path: Changing careers from vet to other areas: government, locum, practice owner, new profession, industry, academia

dog ball           NEWS           

  • Sydney Morning Herald: Uncapping of student fees are more detrimental to vet students than others due to the high debt:income ratio. Those wishing to pursue a veterinary degree will need significant parental or other funding sources.
  • Hong Kong veterinary numbers have increased from 150 to 720 (480%) since 1997 whilst population has increased by 10% in the same period.
  • RCVS News, June 2014, United Kingdom: “46% of vets and 60% of VNs would choose their careers again
  • ABC News: Video discussing the efforts to decrease veterinary suicides in Australia which are currently occurring at the rate of one every 12 weeks. More articles relating to suicide in veterinarians can be found below on this site.
  • Journal of Association of Veterinary Students UK/Ireland:  New vet schools – what will be the result?”….I doubt many students enjoyed reading the rankings of salaries published in the Daily Mail that put veterinarians’ average wage at £33,000, just below ‘Rail construction and maintenance operatives’. As highlighted at the BEVA debate, there is also a cautionary tale in the form of Australia, where three new vet schools were opened in the early 2000s. A quadrupling in the number of unemployed vets over the past six years followed this…

APRIL 2014

  • VIN News: Contradicting pet ownership data.
  • In the News Archive post from last year we highlighted NY Times articles showing the high debt and poor job outcomes for United States law and veterinary graduates. Now Law universities in the United States have started closing due to declining student demand.  It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens with veterinary applicants or whether the decision to become a veterinarian is more of an emotive one rather than based on debt and chances of finding a job.
  • The Australian: Call for cap on lawyers. About one third of law graduates unlikely to ever become lawyers. For veterinarians it is currently around one fifth and rising that aren’t securing full time positions. This is after at least 6 years of university with associated debt and no income during this period.
  • Brakke Consulting, United States: “Perhaps the most concerning finding is the lack of new horse owners coming into the market.  That can reverberate for several years.” In the news archives below there are mentions regarding declining horse ownership in the United States and troubles of United Kingdom veterinarians trying to obtain equine work. The cost, time, and land requirements along with the GFC has led to younger generations going without horses.

MARCH 2014

  • Locum/casual vet wages. The comparison of a locum wage to a full time wage is challenging. For a start, locum vets aren’t paid for 7 weeks of holidays/study leave (2 weeks public holidays, 4 weeks annual leave, 1 week study leave). Therefore an initial calculation is to multiply the locum wage by 45/52. The remaining difference is mostly due to the lack of certainty in gaining employment. For non-specialist medical doctor locums they get about $150/hr x 45/52 = $130/hr which is about 160% more than full time on about $50/hr. The 160% accounts for employment uncertainty. For veterinary locums on $50/hr x 45/52 = $43.25/hr which is about 35% more than full time on about $32/hr. So medical practitioners receive about 160% extra for employment uncertainty whilst veterinarians receive 35%.
  • Synstrat Management, Australia: “Too Many Veterinary Graduates: As reported elsewhere, Australia has far too many veterinary schools graduating far too many vets. Career Choices: Vets who are unable to get a suitable position early in their career or find the work dissatisfying should think seriously about changing career streams within the first two years post-graduation. The longer you leave the change, the harder it will be to win employment in other businesses. Large corporates tend to employ recent graduates and progress them through various positions in their organisation, with the successful ones achieving executive positions in their 30s. lt is not possible to fit older people into their employment developmental structures. Staying in the veterinary profession long-term if you are not progressing will lead to enduring disappointment. Don’t leave it too late to change to another career.”
  • Veterinary Record, United Kingdom: Survey of almost 5,000 veterinarians. Three quarters work in private practice.  Main species seen include: Dogs (26%), Cats (25%), Rabbits (18%), Horses (7%).  By practice type the breakdown is: 87% Companion Animals (including dogs, cats, small mammals, horses, reptiles), 12% Production Animals (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry). 0.4% Wildlife/Zoo animals, 0.2% Fish, and 0.02% Laboratory Animals. Therefore it seems that the significant majority of those entering the profession will work with companion animals.  This is predominantly due to the financial value placed on these animals by owners compared with other categories of animals.
  • Veterinary Pet Insurance, Veterinary Financial Survey, United States: High debt (>$60k for practice owners and >$110k for associates) and financial difficulties are forcing many veterinarians to work longer hours and postpone retirement.  Average salaries are $109k for owners and $84k for associates.  Owners also have concerns about business debt averaging around $360,000 and difficulties selling the practice.  Average veterinary salaries in Australia are around $70k.
  • Follow up on cat and dog prices.  In January we found that average cat prices on Gumtree in an Australian city were $175.  In March they have risen slightly to $195.  Dog prices were $315 in January and have risen significantly to $540 in March.  This appears to correlate with the number of dogs that are ‘free’.  40% of January advertisements were listed as ‘free’ and only 15% of March advertisements.  Free advertisements may be linked with Christmas and the end of the school or university year when people move for education or work.  We will attempt to track this data ongoing.  Are there seasonal trends?  Is there a longer term trend?  Do political and shelter policies have an impact?  Is the price of cats more stable and lower due to a stray breeding population?…
  • Media stats.  The approximate breakdown of AVMA (American Vets) news articles in March is:  2 cattle/slaughter, 1 horses, 1 poultry, 2 pigs, 4 cats/dogs, 1 public/one health.  For AVA (Australian Vets) news and media in February the breakdown is: 9 cats/dogs, 2 cattle/slaughter.  This appears representative of the profession where about three quarters of veterinarians work with companion animals (cats/dogs).  It would be interesting to see the financial spending of these organisations by species.
  • British Veterinary Association/Association of Veterinary Students Survey:  Student debt up 50% since 2008.  Vet student depression is 2.5 times the normal population.  Vet students are relying on parental financial support and have difficulties holding employment due to the high and changing hours of the veterinary degree.  All this before graduating into a veterinary job on a low wage with a poor employment market.
  • Sydney Morning Herald.  The veterinary degree is one of the most oversupplied professions along with lawyers due to massive demand.  Similar issues were discussed in the United States last year by the New York Times.  Graduation from a veterinary degree no longer means that a veterinary job will be available.  Many graduates will now either need to find non-veterinary work, continue with further education or spend months to years in part time or casual jobs on measly wages.  Undertaking a veterinary degree is a significant financial gamble with many years of no income and may only be a path advisable to students with financial backing from parents or a partner.

FEBRUARY 2014

  • DVM 360 follows the stories of three veterinarians in the United States with their gigantic university debts (one, two, three).  In Australia the veterinary degree has lower debt but is still one of the highest compared with other professions and job prospects have declined considerably in recent years.
  • JAVMA news:  This data is from North America so salaries are likely to be higher than Australia.  Equine salaries $160k for owners and $68k for associates.  If the same gender ratios are utilised the 2009 equine salaries were $153k for owners and $80k for associates.  This would suggest that although owner salaries have increased they don’t seem to be keeping pace with inflation along with a decline in associate incomes.  With the large gap between associate and owner wages it is not surprising that there are a large number of solo practitioners.  The Australian Veterinarian Network provided a few concerns regarding equine practice in both the United Kingdom and North America during 2013.

JANUARY 2014

  • USA Today:  People avoiding veterinary checkups and visits due to cost leading to animal suffering.
  • Australian Veterinary Journal :  Some Adelaide university veterinary graduates from 2013 have found ‘employment’ in a practice, others are still looking.  When looking at media releases such as this one has to question whether a ‘position’ is full time or part time and whether it is actually a veterinary position.  As has been outlined previously some veterinary graduates have been applying for veterinary nurse positions due to poor employment prospects.  GradStats seems to provide the best year to year trends on graduate wages and underemployment.
  • Zoetis releases Vetvance website to provide education and career advice including resume/interview preparation for veterinarians.
  • One Health or Public Health has been deemed a location where excessive numbers of veterinary graduates may find employment.  This recent Veterinary Record article discusses the benefits and shortcomings of this sub-discipline including the possibly vague definition and lack of uptake by the medical profession.  Under a vague definition maybe even the pet shop attendant who sells a worming tablet is helping protect people from disease and is in a One Health job: “Definitions of One Health tend to reflect the mission of the respective organisations. As Humpty Dumpty remarks to Alice in Alice through the Looking Glass (Carroll 1865) ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’…. Notwithstanding the endorsements by different medical organisations, as listed on the One Health Initiative website, mainstream medical support for One Health has largely been confined to individuals with close veterinary contacts; indeed, some in the medical profession are reported to see One Health as a veterinary ‘land-grab’
  • The Australian newspaper: Australian Veterinary Association discusses how veterinary oversupply is leading to declining employment prospects and wages.
  • A recent article on VIN news service, which has now been removed, discussed price elasticity for veterinary services.  Veterinary clinics are battling to survive with large increases in veterinary numbers and declining numbers of cats/dogs.  A vet degree has one of the lowest returns on investment with large university debts and time out of the workforce.  The problem faced is that many pet owners will not provide the best medical treatment to their pet due to costs.  Whilst veterinarians want to help all animals there is a need for financial planning before obtaining a pet.  A previous article in the Australian Veterinary Journal earlier in 2013 discussed pricing issues and a follow on letter can be viewed for those with journal access.

DECEMBER 2013

  • New graduate wages and under employment data released – see the graphs.
  • Two recent Australian Veterinary Association submissions to government highlight the explosion in veterinarian numbers with declining numbers of companion animals leading to an oversupply.  Skilled Occupation List.  Higher Education student numbers.
  • United Kingdom Animal Wellbeing Report, PDSA.  More than 90% of people underestimate the costs involved in pet care.  Lack of financial planning for an animal can lead to suffering when environmental or health needs are foregone due to costs.
  • Veterinary Record:  veterinarians have a lower mental health compared with the general population.  One stressor of veterinarians is the difficulty in changing professions.

I want to be a vet when I grow up: costs, entry, the unknown side of the job Other topics: news (see below), volunteer work, costs of veterinary care, news archive, rural veterinarians, pet insurance and ‘medicare for pets’, vet wages vs police vs teachers, veterinary internships, minimum working conditions for medicine vs vets, history of veterinary oversupply, myths of oversupply including feminisation, solutions of oversupply, veterinary finances linked with animal welfare, hindsight in becoming a veterinarian.)

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.

News Archive

2013

NOVEMBER

IBISWorld Report suggests 2% increase in revenue per year is expected for the veterinary industry.  However low wages are likely to continue due to the 50% increase in veterinary graduates over recent years.

American Veterinary Medical Association:  suicides and stress in the veterinary profession are a major issue needing attention.  Lifeline and many others have setup support systems that can help those needing assistance.

Lawyers Weekly – Law graduates having difficulties.  According to Gradstats, law graduates have gone from 9.8% seeking employment four months after graduation and average wages of $42k in 2006 to 17% seeking and $53k in 2012.  Meanwhile vet graduates have gone from 5.3% and $38k in 2006 to 19.2% and $45k in 2012.  Vet graduates usually spend an extra three years at university with no income.  The larger rise in underemployed vets is likely due to the difficulties faced by veterinarians being able to obtain employment outside of veterinary clinical fields.  Vet graduates may also be more adamant about obtaining a clinical job and therefore not consider other jobs.  This contrasts with lawyers whose skills are adaptable to a multitude of business environments.

DVM 360:  Survey suggests that animal owners may leave their pets with illness/pain by skipping vet visits and not using medications to save money.  The paradox of this is that owners state they are prepared to make sacrifices for their pet.  This is a trait of self reported behavioural surveys where people will often say they do what others think is the best option when in reality they do something else.

OCTOBER

New England Journal of Medicine:  Veterinarians are the ‘canary in the mineshaft’ when it comes to assessing the education bubble.  Vets have the highest and most rapidly rising debt to income ratio out of all professions.  In Australia veterinarians have seen stagnating wages and increasing underemployment.  When and will we start to see a decline in veterinary applicants?

proposal for a new veterinary school in Wales will certainly raise some eyebrows after the stir created with the introduction of Surrey and Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Reducing the length of a veterinary degree can allow graduates to focus earlier on their chosen species/subfield and gain skills in that area.  It also allows the rising number of under/unemployed graduates to retrain in other areas more rapidly.  The United States is considering expanding options for three year medical degrees.  More on reducing the degree length in this previous post.

Future of the veterinary profession, free seminar.  21 November, Sydney.  Covering wages and veterinary numbers among other things.  See Small Animal Talk blog for details and to RSVP.  A good chance to observe differing view points and elements of bias in the workforce debate.

It is quite likely some veterinary clinics are receiving 50-100+ applicants for job advertisements at the moment.  The latest batch of graduates will be the largest ever in Australia being the first time all seven veterinary universities are producing graduates.  With graduation expected within the next couple of months, students will be sending out many applications.  One in five graduates from 2010 were unable to secure full time employment by four months after graduation.  With successive years this has likely worsened and it is highly likely that some 2012 graduates are still looking for employment.  As job availability declines it is also likely that increasing numbers of graduates will seek to return to university for another degree or take lower skilled jobs.

British Equine Veterinary Association:  “Lucy [veterinarian] contended that it was irresponsible and immoral to allow individuals to commit five or six years, and tens of thousands of pounds, towards a veterinary career without them first being made aware of the limited opportunities available in very popular sectors of the profession such as equine practice.”  AusVetNet has previously provided information on the low amount of jobs in equine practice compared to the number of students wanting employment in Australia.  Data from the United States has shown declines in horse ownership which are likely occurring in other countries primarily due to the cost and time needs for horse ownership.

New book published by ACER in Australia, “So you want to be a vet?“.  Blurb:  “Eric Allan [veterinarian] cautions that it’s not just about working with animals. It is often an arduous and demanding profession, not as financially rewarding as some might expect, and requires a strong work ethic.”  The best advice for prospective vets is to investigate the issues faced by veterinarians.

The Age, Melbourne:  “Growing demand” for exotic pets.  To prove such a claim requires historical trends on pet numbers and money spent on these animals which don’t appear to be provided.  From the 2010 and 2005 ACAC reports in Australia it can be seen that birds and other pets are DECLINING.  This is similar to the JAVMA post regarding the United States outlined below previously by AusVetNet.  Declining pet ownership seems to be due to several things from finances, time to care for pets, apartment living, and travel.

Veterinary Surgeon’s Act Review in Queensland.  A graph depicts the large rise in veterinary surgeons, far more than population growth which raises concerns over job prospects.  It is also worth checking this document for some of the feminisation and rural myths explained previously by AusVetNet.

Oversupply of veterinarians should be of paramount concern to anyone who cares for animals as it can lead to declining standards in the profession designed to uphold animal welfare.  Currently there are many animals that suffer because owners don’t provide sufficient health care.  Although this comment is unlikely to represent the current standard across the veterinary industry it provides a glimpse of what could occur:  “Everyone is becoming aware that the once respected profession has slid a long way. When the CBC does a consumer awareness type show about your business you just know there are problems. I think the issue stems from an oversupply of vets as every strip mall seems to have at least one. This oversupply has created a situation where vets have to be creative and assertive to get and keep business. 

My sister took her old, senile, ill and over medicated cat to her vet and asked if it was time to put her down. She may well have asked her banker if she should move her banking business to another bank.” CBC News.  Also check out a previous AusVetNet post on how veterinary practice sustainability is critical to animal welfare.

SEPTEMBER

Vetsonline:  United Kingdom veterinary salary survey reveals that wages are AU$64k.  Large animal veterinarians work more hours to achieve a higher annual salary but lower hourly rates.  New universities in England will likely push wages lower.  Pet spending follows trends for luxury items.  Those of higher socioeconomic status provide a higher level of care for pets in terms of health care along with environmental enrichment such as dog walking and doggy day care.  In times of economic prosperity spending on pets increases.  Some have suggested that the veterinary career is becoming a hobby only attainable by the wealthy due to the high cost of the degree and low wages.

The Australian:  feminisation, low wages, declining need for vets in rural areas, and oversupply of graduates.

Previously we reported that the veterinary degree is one of the longest and most expensive with a low return on investment.  Some veterinary students in the United Kingdom seek donations to fund their degrees.  A Chilean who has completed most of his veterinary degree in Queensland is attempting to crowd source the remaining cost of the degree.  It will be interesting to watch what happens to HELP (student) fees over the next couple of years.

University of Sydney has followed other Australian universities and changed to a veterinary postgraduate doctorate degree that is six years instead of five.  This may be beneficial for those wanting to change career from other areas but decreases the return on investment for those going straight from year 12.

Agrifood Environmental Scan suggests a labour shortage for large animal veterinarians, demand for aquatic health veterinarians and an oversupply of small animal veterinarians.  A recent job search showed limited advertisements for aquatic veterinarians.  There were less large animal than small animal veterinary positions advertised and recent sources suggest that large animal veterinarians receive lower hourly wages.  Agrifood publications are utilised by the National Farmers Federation for workforce submissions.

Release of the full report on the latest Australian pet statistics is expected today.  Unfortunately the government doesn’t include questions about pets in their five yearly census.  Therefore the only figures on Australia are extrapolated from the Companion Animal Council/Animal Health Alliance report.  This report surveys 1734 Australians (or 0.0000007% of the population!) and multiplies the data to estimate pet ownership for the 22.68 million Australian population.  Previously we have shown that the number of veterinarians per cat and dog is rising dramatically.

JAVMA (closed access):  Starting salaries in the US seem to mainly be dictated by the number of graduates taking lower paid internships with significantly higher weekly hour loads.  More on interns is available in our previous post.

Journal of Association of Veterinary Students (JAVS), UK (Spring 2013): “The AVS has acknowledged that the general consensus among the student body is that there is no demand for more veterinary graduates and the profession does not need a new veterinary school in the current climate. Although there will no doubt be enough applicants to the veterinary course to fill another veterinary school, the student body has concerns that there will not be enough veterinary jobs for new graduates to support the increase in 2019 when the first cohort of Surrey veterinary students graduate.

JAVS, UK: Low wages, long course length and cost, high entrance requirements including practical experience, and pets becoming luxury items of the wealthy may be limiting the profession to kids whose parents are in the higher socioeconomic bracket.  “Whatever the cause, we will qualify in a profession rapidly becoming dominated by middleclass white girls.
JAVS, UK: “You’d be surprised by how many students and qualified vets are struggling/coping with some form of mental health issue while going about their day-to-day lives.

JAVMA News: Long length of the veterinary degree and high debt is preventing veterinarians entering alternate fields such as public health.  In Australia, veterinary ‘one health’ jobs are mostly in Canberra and another degree is usually needed.  Therefore veterinarians wanting to help in this area are usually adding on a medicine degree to ensure more job options.  The challenges of vets trying to find public health positions was also recently discussed on the Student Doctor Network forum.

UK RCVS Facts 2013:  Page 5 shows an approximate 20% increase in the number of newly registered veterinarians in the United Kingdom since 2007 from 1280 to about 1560 in 2012.  The population increase in this time was 3.7%.  The number of veterinarians per capita has risen from 21.0 vets per million people to 24.7 per million.  A new veterinary university has recently been approved in the United Kingdom which will affect this balance in future years.

Rural dentist and politicians are aware of an oversupply of dentists.  The Australian Dental Association has expressed concerns about declining employment prospects of dental graduates.  Dental graduate underemployment has risen rapidly to 16.4% in recent years.  However veterinary graduate underemployment has risen even more rapidly to 19.2%.  Negligible public awareness has been raised regarding declining veterinary job outcomes.  Another concern raised previously by the Australian Veterinarian Network is the rise in over-servicing and declining animal welfare that can occur with an oversupplied profession.  Recent concerns have been expressed about an increase in medical practitioners in some areas that are providing excessive diagnostics and treatments leading to increased patient costs without benefits to public health.  Many animals are under serviced and owners leave their animals with untreated diseases due to costs but there are concerns that oversupply of veterinarians could lead to overservicing.

A new proposal for a rural medical school has been met with strong criticism by health professionals and student bodies, who say it is not the most cost effective solution to bringing more doctors into rural Australia. Medical professionals and students are arguing that funding would be better spent toward providing higher quality specialised training and support for rural doctors.” TheWire.  It is interesting to note that TWO rural veterinary schools were opened in recent years and there was no public opposition.  Veterinary underemployment is now increasing and 50% of veterinarians leave rural areas within a few years of commencement.  So increasing the number of graduating vets seems very ineffective for assisting veterinary care in rural areas where wages are often lower.

Australian 2013 veterinary students are preparing for graduation in the toughest veterinary graduate job market in Australian history according to GradStats data on underemployment.  In recent times veterinary degrees have increased in length to 6 years, two new universities have started producing graduates, a third veterinary university is set to produce it’s first batch of graduates this year almost doubling the number of Australian veterinary universities in the last few years.  At least one fifth of veterinary graduates were unable to find full time employment last year after four months and several were applying for veterinary nursing positions.

British Vet Record discusses how cost limitations often lead to euthanasia being the best option in many farm animal health situations.  The lower standard of medicine due to cost constraints is one of several reasons for the high loss of veterinarians from rural areas within a few years of commencement.  Other UK data highlights the large increase in veterinary university applicants, however it is likely that many of these are from less developed countries.

JAVMA News:  Bird ownership declines by a massive 20% between 2006 and 2011!  Likely reasons are similar to the decline in ownership of dogs and cats which are mostly due to concerns about being able to provide a high quality of care for the animal.  David Mellor also discussed in the book, Sciences of Animal Welfare, how non-pet owers make their choice out of concern for animals (animalcentric decision), whilst pet owners make their choice based on seeking personal happiness (humancentric decision).  The Humane Society survey found that people chose not to have pets because they didn’t have enough finances to support the animal or they don’t have enough time to care for the animal to a high standard due to travel and work.  But possibly the most relevant information from the decline in bird ownership and the limited amounts of money people are willing to pay for bird health is that veterinary students need to match their job aspirations with the job market.  More than two thirds of vets work with companion animals (dogs, cats, horses).  Production animal (mainly Dairy) surgical and medical needs are low and declining due to the negligible economic value of one animal and increasing herd sizes.  The opening of two production animal universities has added significant competition to the job market in this domain.  Rural production animal hourly wages are lower than companion animal veterinarians suggesting low demand for rural veterinarians.  Areas like birds, fish, and wildlife medicine are extremely restricted due to the low funding for these animals and vets must be willing to travel to get a job.  Vets that choose these paths are likely to have limited options and find difficulty with career advancement.  But all fields of veterinary medicine seem to be saturating with the low wages and increasing underemployment in Australia.

AUGUST

Sydney Morning Herald (broken link, awaiting repair):  concerns over the increasing length of veterinary degrees in Australia leading to increased debt without improving job prospects.

NPR, USA:  There’s Not Enough Work For Veterinarians.  152 comments

Renowned veterinary business consultant and author, Mark Opperman, has added his voice to the concerns regarding the rising debt and poor job outlook for veterinarians in the United States.  DVM 360

Texas University Adjunct Professor, Dr Jim Humphries, on the Veterinary News Network:  “it is alarming to discover that veterinarians are FOUR times as likely to take their own life as the general public… Only 45% of students graduating from veterinary school have a job, and all of them have an average of $150,000 in student debt.  Our young colleagues are starting with a very stressful life.

Australian Veterinary Journal (AVJ) News (closed access).  The last few editions have included discussions on discounts and charges at vet clinics.  Most increases in health costs are due to the advancements in diagnostics and treatments allowing for improved quality of life.  However some veterinarians offer reduced prices.  It is possible that practices where this occurs are often under management by older veterinarians.  Recently there has been more business emphasis within veterinary education and through non-veterinary qualified practice managers.  Whether discounts promote poor financial responsibility for pet owners is open to debate.  However increased costs of pet health care could potentially lead to ongoing declines in pet ownership due to affordability.  Pet insurance seems to offer something in this area.  Many pets currently have untreated conditions such as gum disease and arthritis due to cost issues.

The most recent AVJ also reiterated the Australian Veterinary Associations push for a stock-flow model regarding veterinary numbers.  Stock and flow models usually examine labor supply (graduates, immigrants) and attrition (retirement, career change).  Whilst stock-flow models are useful to predict future numbers of veterinarians compared to present they seem to be deficient for determining appropriate numbers.  Therefore it is important for veterinarians to ensure the AVA analyses wages, underemployment, student debt, excess capacity, and attrition due to poor remuneration.  Action needs to be taken now to alert people of the employment prospects and formulate solutions.

Some have suggested that many veterinary jobs can be found in the public/government domain.  However this line of thinking has various flaws as seen in veterinary employment trends both in Australia and overseas.  The Australian Veterinary Association has recently expressed concerns about the retraction of government support for veterinarians.

British Veterinary Record research survey highlights the poor mental health of veterinary students (not open access).  A follow up article discusses the importance of such research for encouraging people to seek help.  It is quite likely that the type of students selected into veterinary courses are predisposed to mental health issues.  Most veterinary faculties now have campuses outside of cities meaning that students must leave their social support of family and friends.  For those graduates that move to rural areas, isolation stress can be compounded.  The study pressures with intense hours including night shifts plus exams are further stressors.  Another stressor is finances with vet students spending many years at university and in the final years of practical rotations they are usually unable to do part time work due to their constantly changing location.  Finances are likely to be stretched further after graduation with the low veterinary wages and high cost of living in Australia.  When vets commence work they often have to deal with owners that can’t provide proper treatment to animals due to limited finances which may place more emphasis on economic issues.  One suggestion to improve veterinary finances is to reduce the length of the veterinary degree to four years after finishing year 12.

Another recent British Veterinary Record article highlights how economic development is one of the most important methods to help animals, particularly in developing countries.  Read more here on how animal owners with more income provide better animal care.  If we want to help animals most in need, is it best to help people out of poverty (and therefore allow them to provide better animal welfare)?

Hong Kong Veterinary Association is taking steps to highlight some of the international concerns about veterinary supply and demand:  rising student debt and trouble finding jobs.  Australia, United Kingdom and the United States are the examples provided.  This coincides with plans in Hong Kong to build a new veterinary university that would significantly alter supply balances.

From July last year but this blog, HSTDVM, delves into some of the finances of vet care with an example from a veterinarian where euthanasia was required.  Many vets have commented on this article.  Although vets may join the profession to help animals, their employment contract and need to ensure business survival means that they can often only help the animals of owners with sufficient finances.  Euthanasia and substandard treatment are quite common because many lower socioeconomic areas have significant pet ownership.  More about the links of finance and animal welfare below.

With 20% and rising underemployment of veterinary graduates it is important to assess alternative options.  Some of the better veterinary students may also consider non-clinical work as they feel their contributions to society can be enhanced in alternative areas.  The end of Winter is the best and maybe only opportunity to apply for Summer internships.  This must be done at least 18 months before graduation otherwise many of these alternative fields become unviable without completing another entire degree.  See the non-clinical careers section for more info.  As we approach the end of the year some final year students may consider an internship.  Although 9 in 10 interns initially seek to become specialists, less than half complete fellowships.  Therefore the negative impacts of internships which offer less general practice experience, lower wages, and very long hours must be assessed.

Age and gender of Board positions in Australian veterinary groups may impact on decisions made as per current discussions in the United States on VIN News.

Vet graduates struggling to find employment due to large surplus, Moree Champion:  “Mr Hunter, co-owner of the Moree vet centre hopes Ms Fischer will find her dream job, as she “bubbles with enthusiasm”, but he also knows it won’t be an easy task in today’s climate.

Before 2010 there was a huge demand for vets in remote areas, but a ‘selective intake’ program put in place to focus on producing vet students from the bush has been successful.

“Before 2010 we once advertised for three years without success, but for the last vacancy we had, there were 30 or 40 applicant,” Mr Hunter said.”

Last month we reported on the large rise in veterinary university enrolments in Australia despite declining employment prospects.  It appears veterinary enrolments are having the largest rise out of any course in the United Kingdom as well.  This fits with research from the Grattan Institute showing that students don’t really consider unemployment levels and income when selecting a degree.  Many students complete at least one or more university degrees to gain enough marks for entry into a veterinary degree, some never managing to achieve entry.  The United Kingdom has recently attempted to reduce public funding towards these permanent students by only providing government assistance to a student’s first bachelor degree.  This has led to many students that attempt fundraising activities searching for donations to get them through veterinary university.  More information on students seeking donations can be found here.

People since they were 5, they’ve shaped their entire lives — school, volunteer, work experience — toward becoming veterinarians. Even when this new information comes in that says, ‘Hmm, perhaps this isn’t the right thing,’ they use all their coping and denial skills to say, ‘It’s not going to be me’ and they entrench deeper.” Lori Kogan, psychologist, Colorado State University.  VIN News full article available here.

JULY

Australian Dental Association:  “There is clear evidence that Australia has a growing oversupply of dentists.”  Veterinary graduate outcomes are far below those of dentists.

Opening of new TV series, Vet School, on ABC 1.  Whilst many veterinary TV shows avoid the tough but routine life of a vet, this show has done justice already with the first episode.  Vet student, Susie, is welcomed to the reality that many pet owners will place their own welfare over that of their pets and choose not to pay for diagnostics and treatment.  This explains the large quality and remuneration gap between vets and doctors.  Vets must be prepared for the fact that humans are placed as a priority over animals.  Episode 2 covers euthanasia.

Australian Medical Students Association opposes new medical school due to concerns about lack of internship places related to large increases in medical school graduates in recent years.  The number of veterinary faculties has almost doubled in recent years and veterinary graduate unemployment has spiraled out of control.

New Zealand Veterinary Council Workforce Survey.  From April but somehow slipped through the cracks so we’re putting it in with the July News.  Unfortunately wages aren’t listed in this survey so it is difficult to utilise it for supply/demand analysis which is dictated by price.  Of note is that at least one third of New Zealand veterinarians stop their registration 2 years after graduating.  It is quite likely that low wages and oversupply are forcing them to leave the country or change profession.  The survey also details how females are working less hours later in their career.  We have previously shown how low wages can encourage those performing child care duties to work part time for longer because they are unable to pay for child care.  As veterinary wages are so low it is likely that their partner will earn more and continue working while the veterinarian (male or female) will be responsible for child care.

Veterinary degrees with an average student debt of 28 years have been labeled as one of the three worst degrees for debt in the US.  It is similar in Australia with at least 6 years out of the workforce and there is also rising unemployment of graduates in Australia.

With the exploding debt of US veterinary students, VIN has introduced a needed analysis of expected university and living costs in various locations.  This comes on the back of news that more US veterinary schools are opening despite an excessive number of veterinarians.

The AVA has just released their election platform which includes asking for a government analysis of the veterinary workforce.  Interestingly the government did a workforce report on dental supply and demand but the Australian Dental Association suggests it lacked some vital information.  The question also remains that with the current dire wages and rising underemployment of veterinary graduates, whether action should be taken now on oversupply before waiting many months or years for a report which may have shortcomings.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has vowed to “Provide prospective students with a realistic assessment of the academic, financial, and competitive challenges involved in becoming a veterinarian.”  At a time when average vet graduate debt has risen to $150k  with seven or more years at university out of the workforce and a challenging employment market this would seem to be a good move.

Another mention about Australian veterinary graduate oversupply in the main media, The Australian.  This was in response to government data that shows a 20% increase in veterinary student enrolments.  Add this to veterinary graduate underemployment that has quadrupled in the last 5 years and it seems time to fasten those seat belts!  The moral of the story is that prospective students should ensure they have sufficient funds to support another degree in addition to their veterinary one.

British Veterinary Association provides a reply that is at odds with the RCVS (registration body) optimistic interpretation of the veterinary graduate survey in vetsonline.com:

In reviewing the situation over recent years, it was discovered that the percentage of veterinary graduates leaving their first job within three months were:
7.7% for 2010 graduates
15.9% for 2011 graduates
42.6% for 2012 graduates

Perhaps most worrying is the statistic that the percentage of graduates leaving their first job within the first three months has significantly increased. The main reasons cited are poor management and temporary contracts. The trend towards temporary contracts is very worrying in terms of job security for those just starting out.

Australian medical students are being very proactive in trying to ensure employment prospects for medical graduates don’t deteriorate.  They are seeking to prevent the opening of new medical schools which could lead to an oversupply of graduates.  Medical graduate underemployment is on 2% but veterinary graduates are on 20% according to GradStats.  The predominant cause of this seems to be the 50% increase in the number of Australian veterinary graduates in recent years.  Veterinary students seem to lack a political voice in Australia.

Dr Andy Roarke from the US tells owners that ‘you get what you pay for‘ with vet care.  Unfortunately many owners leave their pets suffering to avoid vet expenses.  Veterinarians spend excessive amounts of time negotiating costs with clients and are often unable to use the skills they have been taught due to lack of funding.

RCVS comissioned IES United Kingdom graduate veterinarian survey.  Increasingly veterinary graduates are securing short term contracts instead of permanent positions.  Unfortunately this survey doesn’t include numbers of part time and full time vets or wages so isn’t very useful for supply/demand analysis.

It appears that some veterinary graduates in the UK are also seeking work as veterinary nurses due to lack of jobs:  “Our most recent advertisement for an equine veterinary nurse has attracted interest from a handful of recently qualified vets desperate to find work. This employment problem is not confined to internships; some of our recent interns have found it very difficult, if not impossible to find a job in horse practice, once they’ve completed their internship.”  Ausvetnet has previously reported similar issues in Australia and the United States due to a burgeoning veterinary graduate population.  The report by BEVA mainly focuses on the fact that there is a significantly higher number of veterinary students that want to work with horses than there are jobs available in that sector.

Australia’s veterinary schools, which have increased from four to seven, are producing too many vets. Many have poor job and career prospects. Do our veterinary schools have an ethical responsibility to advise applicants for veterinary courses that many graduates will have poor career prospects after graduation? A high proportion of those entering veterinary courses will be much better off choosing other careers; even taking apprenticeships in trades. A mere handful will become owners of substantial practices.” Synstrat Management Newsletter

AVA conference talk synopsis by Rebekah BrownJim Stowe’s Recommendation: “Ideally close 4 veterinary schools in Australia (although he admits this is extremely unlikely to happen).”Jim Stowe’s Prediction: “The veterinary profession as we know it will not exist twenty years from now. It will either degenerate into a relatively unprofessional cheap service for pet owners as a cute cottage industry or it will become a varied and enviable profession dedicated to the care of every animal species on the planet.

There have been unfortunate reports that the suicide rate for veterinarians has risen this year.  OneLife and the Australian Veterinary Association are working to provide support.

JUNE

Australian Veterinary Association releases workforce report.  When one analyses a report, consideration must be given to who sits on the committee that commissions the report and their financial advantages regarding recommendations.  The conclusion states there is ‘insufficient evidence’ on supply and demand, that increases in females will lead to less full time employees, and that there are concerns about supply for rural practice.  It is quite unusual that the report didn’t utilise basic economic theory in their summary whereby price (wages, underemployment) represents the best determinant of supply and demand.  With the severely low wages of veterinarians and rapidly rising underemployment of graduates a massive oversupply would be the likely conclusion.  The American Veterinary Medical Association, British Veterinary Association, and Australian Dental Association have expressed concerns about oversupply with better markets than Australian veterinary graduates.  The report also overlooks concerns that rural oversupply is likely worse than metropolitan oversupply because hourly wages are lower as is the case for rural veterinarians in other countries such as the United States due to the low value of farm animals and the distance between animals.
Australian Dental Association has some wise word “To claim there is a shortage of dentists when recent graduates can’t get jobs is pure nonsense“.  The number of vet graduates unable to find full time jobs has quadrupled to almost one in five over recent years.

Psychological Medicine Journal, Cambridge, suggests that veterinarians have high risk of suicide in the United Kingdom.  The article highlights socioeconomic factors as a large determinant for suicide in occupations.  Of interest is that during the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 there was lots of animal death but buoyant veterinary demand.  This article and another one suggest there were no increased veterinary suicides during the outbreak and that veterinary suicides were lower around this period compared with the 1980’s.  Although various factors have been associated with the high veterinary suicide rate, these two articles add weight to the theory that economic factors are major.  This creates cause for concern when considering the declining employment prospects of Australian veterinarians.

United Kingdom veterinary students call an end to the creation of new veterinary universities which are leading to a declining quality of the veterinary profession.  Veterinary Record.  Australia has 30% more veterinarians per capita than the United Kingdom.

Australian Medical Students Association calls on government over internship ‘crisis’ due to rising numbers of medical students.  Medical graduate underemployment is on 2% whilst veterinary graduate underemployment is on 20%.
Median general veterinary practitioner wages in the United States are $88,000.  JAVMA
Concerns have been raised about consistency and quality control for internships, as currently no processes are in place to accredit these programs.” It is quite likely that many intern positions provide no extra support or learning compared with other jobs.  The American Veterinary Association has a policy on interns (not legally enforced) trying to promote higher standards.  There is one gamble interns aren’t taking, they are guaranteed a lower wage of $25k versus $65k in associate roles.    Several graduates are probably forced into these lower wage intern positions due to surplus veterinarians and decreased job options.  Further evidence is also provided showing that internships are a bad idea unless aiming for residency and specialist accreditation:  “I feel like if you just want the experience, to see more cases, have someone supervise you, you might be better to do private practice, because you get more normal cases, more case responsibility, and probably a little higher caseload, depending on where you go”.  More on intern abuse here.  JAVMA News.

New North American group, Save the Veterinary Profession, has created a petition to reduce the excess numbers of veterinarians.

The trend continues as more veterinarians study medicine to become human physicians:  Toowoomba Chronicle.  More on career changers in the below post.

Lowest Paid Jobs in Australia (News.com.au):  “Veterinary nurses – $41,376 per year
Veterinary nurses care for animals under treatment and in temporary residence at veterinary facilities and assist veterinarians to perform procedures and operations.  The average yearly salary of the veterinarians they assist is $57,439 [probably worse than nurses considering they have studied at university for 6 years without an income].”

Perfect Storm Looming for Veterinary Industry according to Sam Bowden of United Vets Group.  He utilises research from the most recent IBISWorld report on the Australian veterinary industry which shows declining profit margins and pet numbers in Australia to raise concerns about the future of veterinarians in Australia.

Dr Paul Davey receives Order of Australia medal for his efforts to combat veterinary suicides related to poor remuneration, long hours and exposure to animal death.  West Australian, Yahoo News.

Veterinarians are still listed on the 2013 skilled occupation list.  The AVA submission suggested oversupply and poor employment prospects for veterinary graduates whilst the National Farmers Federation has suggested shortages.  Meanwhile the pharmacy students created a petition to remove pharmacists from the skilled shortage list.  They were successful and pharmacists have been removed which is quite unusual considering their graduate underemployment is on 1.9% and veterinarians are on 19.2% according to GradStats.

MAY

Median wage of Australian veterinarians under $60,000.  AVA Workforce Survey 2012

United States is starting to see some of the issues encountered in Australia:  veterinary graduates only being able to get jobs as veterinary nurses and animal welfare compromise due to underemployed veterinarians with low experience.  JAVMA (closed access)

Another example of a veterinarian changing career to medicine.  More about career changing here.
“Those studying first-year veterinary science need to reevaluate whether they truly want to spend [five or six] years in a demanding course which will lead to poor career outcomes for the majority. Many first-year students will do themselves a favour if they change to a course offering much better employment prospects on graduation. Only a tiny proportion will gain good positions in busy veterinary practices offering them a wide range of experience. Most recent graduates will be wise to consider changing into another occupation within the first year after graduation, when university graduate career entry positions may be attainable in large businesses.” Synstrat Management

New graphs added below including comparison of vets with medical practitioners, and trend of vet numbers vs cat and dog numbers.
The Age:  Vets, one of the longest degrees with the lowest wages.  Human doctors among the highest earners.

Nerdy Vet Blog covers:  Reasons NOT to be a vet
JAVMA News suggests United States veterinary students are concerned about employment prospects and high debt.  The AAHA State of the Industry Report suggests veterinary revenues rose 5.6% over the last year.  However revenue is still down compared with 2008 and with an inflation rate of around 2% since 2008 plus massive increases in the number of graduating veterinarians, the scenario is much much worse.  This would suggest a decline in revenues relative to inflation of around 8-10% over the last 5 years with more veterinarians trying to get jobs.

APRIL
Latest Journal of the Association of Veterinary Students UK suggests too many veterinarians in the United Kingdom making jobs scarce plus high debt is creating troubling times.

Veterinary Team Brief: High veterinary suicide risk is attributable to low wages, high debt, long working hours, euthanasia, isolation and perfectionism.

Over the last few decades the percentage of veterinarians in government roles has decreased partly due to privatisation and centralisation.  Many from human health fields command higher respect in terms of zoonotic diseases.  ABC has just reported the closing of an agricultural rural biosecurity laboratory.

“That is, you need to earn a gross salary averaging $100,000 annually to justify investing in a degree in veterinary science…Probably of more concern is that a salary ceiling seems to be reached about five years after graduation. This ceiling seems to be around $75,000 to $80,000.” AVA News

Wallstreet Journal:  2013 AVMA workforce study suggests there is an oversupply of 11,250 veterinarians in the US.  JAVMA News suggests there has been a 50% increase in veterinary graduates between 1991 and 2015 with only about a 25% increase in population and declining pet numbers per capita.

Government ensures human healthcare spending is done accountably and that diagnostics and treatments with no benefits are avoided.  Medical research creates many ‘solutions’ that provide negligible benefit including some new types of blood products and excessive use of CT scans for people with headaches.  When a profession becomes oversupplied with practitioners and there is no accountability, there is an increased likelihood of over servicing using products with no proven benefits.  See more below.

Australian veterinary practitioners are providing reports that veterinary graduates are applying for jobs as veterinary nurses because they can’t get jobs.  This is artificially raising the employment rate.  There has also been reports of graduates seeking volunteer work at veterinary clinics which is potentially an illegal method to find employment.

New AVA student president, Catherine Bishop, wants to address oversupply of veterinarians:  “I think that the veterinary students in Australia are facing new challenges, like increasing numbers of graduates competing in a limited job market and I hope to be able to discuss these issues, as well as others, as they arise,” Catherine said.

Veterinary oversupply and unemployment has hit mainstream media in The Australian newspaper.  Too many vets:  enough to make a horse laugh

Hong Kong Veterinary Association survey suggests overwhelming consensus against need for new veterinary school.  Hong Kong has traditionally been a place where Australian veterinary graduates get work but employment prospects could be considerably hampered with a new veterinary school.

South China Morning Post:  Leave research to medical schools, says chief vet.  No need for new Hong Kong vet university.

JAVMA Workforce History:  Much of workforce research on veterinarians in the United States has failed to include demand.  This can be seen in reports stating we need lots more of ‘x’ type of vets but failing to analyse wage trends.  Adjusting supply of veterinarians without accounting for demand can lead to unemployment and declining wages relative to inflation.  Also discussed is how human health degrees are more respected and better paid than vets in public health fields such as government.

MARCH

AVJ article suggests female veterinarians with two or more children are less likely to be stressed.  One possible reason is that they are more likely to have a spouse which can provide financial assistance compared with childless women who are more likely to be single.  Financial assistance is important with many vets taking on $150-250k of debt for their studies in Australia and the increasing unemployment levels of graduates.

AVMA releases US wage data:  $100k for companion animal veterinarians (owners and associates), $160k for industry, $138k for specialist university, $148k for specialist private.  Australia has at least 30% more veterinarians per capita than the US which would explain the $15-30k higher wages in the US for companion animal vets.  US university debt has increased at much faster rates than wages and currently averages $150k.  Australian graduates have between $50-250k of debt plus the 5-6 years without income whilst at university.  The debt depends on whether they are on a government HELP loan ($50-60k), domestic full fee (approx 30% of students, $150k) or international full fee (approx 30% of students, $250k).  Industry jobs are far more plentiful in the US with most pharmaceutical companies having head offices located there.  Specialist earning power in Australia is again lower due to the high number of veterinarians per capita.

Veterinary Team Brief discusses the causes of increased suicides in veterinarians.  Finances appear to be one that is rising in prominence.

VIN News provides some investigative journalism seeking perspectives from universities and veterinarians across the country on the recently unfolding but long standing catastrophic decline of the veterinary profession in the USA.

Australian Veterinary Association survey.  Currently the biggest concern appears to be “Increasing numbers of veterinary students”.

UK debate on need for new veterinary school.  Note that author is an academic.

Bioveterinary degree.  Only 29.4% employment after graduation in the UK.  Some of those jobs include sales, copy editor and retail.  Many had to do further education to improve their employment options.  Those considering Bioveterinary or veterinary bioscience degrees need to think closely about their backup plans.

Median veterinary assistant job wage in North America is US$25,500.  In Australia the MINIMUM wage is AU$28,282 for veterinary receptionists which is significantly better.  Australian veterinary nurses are also often paid similar or more than veterinarians on weekends and for overtime.

Journal of Veterinary Medical Education (limited access) suggests that veterinarians have failed by allowing too many US veterinary schools to setup in rural areas away from the more relevant employment areas of medical faculties and companion animals in the cities.  Also discussed is the decline in public health, one health and government roles of veterinarians with a desperate need to revive these areas.

JANUARY

NY Times article on oversupply, unemployment and crippling debt of veterinary students in the US.  Over 400 comments and some scary graphs.  JustVetData rundown on the statistics.  Student Doctor forum discussions by vet students about the NY Times article.

American Veterinary Journal (JAVMA) article (limited access) briefs on the severely low number of veterinarians employed by the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO).  Veterinary debts may be too high to do further education to enter these public health positions and there don’t seem to be enough advertised for veterinarians.

The Australian reports oversupply of doctors leads to overservicing and excessive charges.

With 19% unemployment of veterinary graduates, final year veterinary students will need to look at non-veterinary careers.  January-March is the usual time to apply for these alternate graduate positions.  See more under ‘I’m a vet student, now what?

NY Times:  Veterinary and law degrees seeing large drop in applications due to high debt and poor employment prospects.  Could veterinary university faculties suffer the same ills as law faculties?

British Veterinary Record:  English veterinarians warned not to build too many veterinary schools like Australia as it has led to massive deterioration in employment prospects and reputation equivalent to a trade.

JAVMA News:  Declining number of people keeping horses due to costs.  See myth 3 here for more about problems with equine veterinary jobs.

VIN News:  More US veterinary schools planned despite uncertain job market.

Controversy over new Hong Kong veterinary university which may destroy veterinary career prospects.  Veterinary graduate unemployment in Australia has exploded after student number increases.  Hong Kong has been a place where some Australian veterinarians have been able to find employment.

Government makes 100 new graduate jobs for dentists (16% graduate unemployment).  Vets unlikely to receive government assistance (19% graduate unemployment and rising)

JAVMA News: Total number of cats & dogs declines whilst veterinary visits increase marginally.  Possible reasons for the decline could include higher density living (apartments), a mobilised workforce, concerns about confining/isolating an animal for many hours, costs, or time required to walk/feed/clean/train.

Australian Bureau of Statistics weekly earnings by occupation.  Suggests an annual wage of $57,439 ($1104.6 per week) for full time veterinarians and an average of 37.7 hours per week plus overtime.  This would appear to be an underestimate possibly due to a small sample size as indicated by the analysis of other Australian veterinary wage reviews below.  The ABS does a more comprehensive salary survey during the year but vet wages may still have some uncertainty due to the small size of the profession.

British Veterinary Record (not free access):  Veterinarian discusses how lawyers representing the RSPCA charge the RSPCA far more than veterinary employees.

Journal of American Veterinary Association (not free access):  Veterinarian from the 80’s says ‘I told you so’ regarding oversupply and unemployment of vets in the US.

Veterinary Team Brief:  Too many veterinarians in the US

Rural veterinarian moves to more urban location.  Because veterinary salaries are so low it is common for them to follow a partner to better job opportunities.  Sunshine Coast Daily

Meanwhile, on her desk at the Green Country Veterinary Hospital, Tressler has a resume from a recent graduate who’s working at a convenience store.” Oversupply (severely low wages) of veterinarians in the US in ENID News again mislabeled as a shortage.

‎”…the ranks of government employed veterinarians in the field have declined significantly in recent years.” in The Land.  More about loss of veterinarians in government here.

Australian dentists speaking out about oversupply in The Age.  Dental graduate salaries are $80k and those unable to find employment are at 16% according to GradStats (also see the graphs below).  Vets on the other hand are on $45k and 19%.  Why is no-one speaking about veterinary oversupply?

Hong Kong veterinarian outlines how cheap veterinary care is compared with humans in the South China Morning Post SCMP.  HK is cheaper than Australia for veterinary care.

2012 NEWS

DECEMBER 2012

Does a veterinary degree and working as a veterinarian prepare someone for doing a medicine degree?  Online Australian forum discussion: Paging Dr – Veterinarians changing career to medicine

Synstrat Newsletter:  Too many vets!  Synstrat provides some great advice that many Australian veterinary students need to seek non-veterinary jobs at graduation.  The below graphs show the quadrupling of veterinary graduate unemployment in Australia over the last 6 years.  It is important that veterinary students consider non-veterinary options several years before graduation so they can get experience in these areas before applying for graduate positions.

Veterinarians changing career to school teachers and winning prizes in Western Australia: “It is particularly encouraging to see a couple of career-changers, who are bringing expertise from the veterinary and occupational therapy fields to the classroom, acknowledged at these awards,”  More info about veterinary career changers can be found here.

Proposal for new veterinary surgery in North West England rejected due to potential business damage to other veterinary clinics and parking issues.

Australian Veterinary Association releases submission on skilled occupation list suggesting significant oversupply of veterinarians.

Veterinary Practice News weighs in on the unnecessary building of new veterinary schools in the USA.  A veterinarian provides an increasingly common comment:  “I no longer recommend a veterinary career to young people who ask me. That’s sad….”

British Veterinary Record:  Who needs more veterinarians? Professor Lanyon discusses the falsified reasons to create new veterinary schools and how the esteem of the profession is in decline with less applicants. (note: article is not free access)

Inside Higher Ed:  US Professors debate need for new universities and poor employment prospects of graduates.  VIN News also covered the controversy before the forum.

Veterinarian writes letter to editor in The Australian suggesting journalist may not have been aware of the low salaries that veterinarians earn (scroll down page to Pets and Vets).

GradStats employment data for all Australian university graduates.  Veterinarians have continued to decline as shown in the graphs below.

NOVEMBER 2012

American Veterinary Medical Association News:  Large animal practice in decline.   Australia highlighted as an example of what not to do.  The massive increase in veterinary numbers in Australia is likely to create unemployment issues for graduates.  There is less demand for large animal surgery and medicine due to coalescing of rural farms.  Those seeking work assisting farm animals may be better placed taking a shorter 3 year Agricultural Science degree followed by a Masters in business management, epidemiology or public health by correspondence.

US students fight back with three articles about falsified rural ‘shortages’ and are very concerned about unemployment.  SAVMA gazette.  A growing problem:  Too many veterinarians. And:  Veterinary school proposal. And: Veterinary shortage?. And:  Not enough jobs?

Chilean seeks creditor of $70,000 to allow him to finish his final year of veterinary science in Australia:  ABC news

UK charity PDSA releases report suggesting prospective pet owners are uninformed about actual costs.  Pet owner estimate of lifetime dog costs = £1-5k, Actual cost = £16-31k.  Pet owner estimate of lifetime cat costs = £1-5k, Actual cost = £17k

British Veterinary Record:  British Veterinary Hospitals Association (BHVA) agrees with BVA that another veterinary school in England is unnecessary as already graduates are unable to find veterinary employment. (note: article is not free access)

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association:  letter to the editor suggests prospective vets should be warned about entering the profession. (note: article is not free access)

86% of pharmacists want their profession removed from the skilled occupation list.  Veterinarians have higher graduate unemployment than pharmacists according to GradStats.

OCTOBER 2012

Synstrat Newsletter suggests Australian veterinary students need to seek NON-veterinary employment before graduation to avoid unemployment.  This is discussed further in the post below: I’m a vet student, now what?

Australian Veterinary Association graduate survey results:  concerns include wages and difficulty finding a job.

Synstrat Newsletter:  Are there too many vet school places (in Australia)? (Synstrat has also addressed increasing dental student numbers)

IBISWorld Report on Australian Veterinary Market:  1.6% economic growth per annum expected (with a 50% increase in veterinary graduates)

British Veterinary Association speaks out against new vet university.  First international vet association to take such a firm stance.  See the Student Room for a vet student discussion on the issue.  Reports on VIN News suggest it can take 6-9 months for vet graduates to find employment in the UK.

Australian government audit shows 43% of Queensland pharmacists being illegally underpaid.  What is happening to vets?

British Medical Journal: Excess hospital capacity and supply driven demand (oversupply of doctors) leads to harmful overdiagnosis particularly of higher socioeconomic clients.

SEPTEMBER 2012

US Veterinary blogger describes the conflicts of interest and expanding numbers of veterinary students that are leading to an oversupplied workforce:  Veterinarians Behaving Badly

AUGUST

Australian Veterinary Journal:  How we make ends meet.  Poor outlook for veterinarians.

Agricultural Science Journal:  50% oversupply of veterinarians in Australia

American veterinarians discuss high debts and poor job prospects particularly in rural areas despite biased suggestions of ‘shortages’

JULY 2012

US Workforce study finds no shortage:  DVM 360 News, National Academies Press Google Books

MAY 2012

New Zealand is one of the most oversupplied (low salaries) countries for veterinarians where most leave the country or the profession.  The New Zealand Veterinary Association delved into the issue:  “Ricketts said vets leave the industry at a high rate for varied reasons, including salary, workload and work-life balance.” on TV NZ.  Although they incorrectly suggest there is a shortage when the economics 101 supply/demand model says low incomes equals oversupplied.

Journal of Veterinary Medical Education:  One fifth of Alabama veterinarians have considered suicide

APRIL 2012

Historical look at the US increases in veterinary student debt and the oversupplied job market.

2011:  The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention:  Lack of alternative career options and finances may be part of the reasons for suicides in veterinarians.

2011:  Large increase in Hong Kong veterinarians possibly linked with the increased number of universities in Australia a major training hub.

2010:  United Kingdom veterinary survey, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons:  “Nearly half of veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses who responded to the survey say that if they had their time again, they would choose a different career.

2010:  United Kingdom British Veterinary Record:  Veterinary suicides four times that of normal population and twice that of dentists.

2008:  Australian Veterinary Journal:  Large unemployment predicted for veterinarians.

2007:  Australian Veterinary Journal:  Only half of veterinarians would do the course if they had their chance again.

Large rise in the number of European veterinary graduates.  Belgium, Germany and Austria are exporters of veterinarians as there aren’t enough jobs.

 

“I want to be a vet when I grow up” The challenges.

It’s that time of year again, when school kids get their results and tell everyone that they want to become… veterinarians.

“I have always wanted to be a vet,”  Bateman’s Bay Post, NSW

“It’s what I have always wanted to do,”  South Coast Register, NSW

“The wait isn’t yet over for Amy to find out if she can study veterinary science.” Central Western Daily, NSW

“I love animals and I can see myself working with animals, doing a postgrad of vet science or wildlife conservation.” Jewish News, VIC

“Daniel hopes to study veterinary science” Narooma News, NSW

“I plan to study veterinary science” Mercury Hobart, TAS

“Ms Sellar said after completing her three-year science degree she hoped to stay at university for another three years studying veterinary science.” Bendigo Advertiser, VIC

“She said she had not fully committed yet but was thinking of transferring back to the veterinary course after 12 months in the science degree. “ Central Western Daily, NSW

Surveys of veterinarians show that most make their decision of career at the age of 13.  In a recent linkedin survey vet is the fourth ranked childhood dream job of women in Australia.  There may be varying reasons for this desire ranging from a close attachment to a child pet, enduring a strong emotional event with an animal such as euthanasia or illness, kids animal movies, wildlife documentaries, computer games, animal toys, or even exciting trips to the zoo.

Glowing images of veterinarians can be found elsewhere on the internet and kids are encouraged to check these out.  The focus of what follows is a hidden side that can allow future veterinarians to gain a realistic acceptance of some of the challenges so they can be better prepared and more resilient.

Is it a good idea to choose a career when you are young?  Do they know what a veterinarian actually does and what it feels like?  Have they balanced the pros/cons and compared these with other professions?  Do they know the employment prospects and how much financial/time sacrifice it takes to become and be a veterinarian along with how this will impact their family/social life (evening & weekend shifts)?  Have they considered that seeking employment in a non-veterinary field may allow them to help animals more, for example by donating money to animals in need such as those in developing countries or dire situations?  How do they feel that most animals are bred and often kept in conditions that don’t allow enough freedom so that humans can use them for benefit (eg. pets, food animals…)?  Some may think that vets are empowered to change this but there are many shades of grey.  With a combination of an animal owner who can’t or won’t pay and a need to ensure the veterinary clinic maintains a good reputation, sometimes the veterinarian is left to idly watch.

Kids want to become veterinarians because they want to work with animals.  Kids love cuddling animals so of course it would be great to do that every day?  However vets spend a lot of their time working with people and trying to convince them to pay for treatment.  Vet work requires a love of people more so than animals.  If not convinced a scroll through veterinary job advertisements will show the high emphasis on words like ‘communication skills’, ‘client focus’…  Most animals are scared of vets and cuddles are few and far between.  Seeing animals become sick and die or euthanised may not be part of the job that children are aware of.  As the veterinary profession is such a small industry it is quite likely that family or family friends are unable to provide an accurate description of what veterinarians do and feel on a regular day to day basis.  Parents may be proud of their kid’s choices because the profession holds prestige due to the ‘high’ entry requirement and the granting of a ‘Dr’ title.  However parents may not be aware of the high entrance requirement may be artificially inflated by the number of full fee and ‘alternative entry’ students (after completing other degrees), rising unemployment, low wages, pressure from managers, and mental health issues.

The kids that are focused on a job in veterinary science need to put significant effort into study in the areas of science and biology and are unlikely to pay attention to subjects such as finance and economics.  As a veterinary student they are required to spend many hours at university within the veterinary faculty composed of similar students.  Rotations at veterinary clinics are predominantly passive observation or procedures away from the client.  Rarely will veterinary students gain much responsibility in the financial or euthanasia discussions which will cause significant pressure in their jobs.

It is only after graduating often with large debt and the opportunity cost associated with years out of the workforce that reality hits:  challenges finding a job, long hours, euthanasia because owners don’t want to pay for treatment, poor diagnostics and treatment because of low owner finances, challenges with mortgages/childcare/schooling/rent…  Wages and on call were the two largest concerns of veterinarians in a recent UK survey while 50% of veterinarians said they wouldn’t do the course if they had their time again. Yes many still get jobs and many still enjoy ‘vetting’ but pragmatism is important. The positives of the job are related to being able to help animals and their owners along with variety.

The current veterinary student cohort consists predominantly of full fee paying students (40% international and 30% domestic full fee) that spend about $250,000 to complete the course.  These are likely to be of higher socioeconomic background where finances are not a worry or the alternate where they are taking a very risky economic gamble going into debt to search for a ‘dream’.  The international students are predominantly composed of some who are seeking to gain entry to the American veterinary market and those from less developed countries with English as a second language.  The remaining 30% of Commonwealth Supported students comprise a few students who have come direct from school and several others who may have completed one or two degrees trying to gain entry.  The ones who have completed other degrees prior have spent many years out of the workforce costing the government and taxpayers significant funding by spending many years at university.  Australia capped HECS payments at 7 years under the previous government and the UK government doesn’t provide assistance to students completing a second bachelor degree (see student fee outrage – broken link awaiting repair by Townsville Bulletin).  It is quite possible that Australia could reintroduce a similar scheme.  Many veterinary students in the UK are struggling with the large debts (see Guardian article, Daily Post article, Shropshire star article of student seeking donations so they can study vet science, Gloucestershire echo article, student blog begging for money, another student blog seeking donations, and another, and another…,  ).  Maybe these students would be better seeking alternate degrees?

So the best advice for wanna be vets is to look at several career options and spend time with vets telling them about your interests/skills and asking for career advice.  One should also question the internal motivations behind the answers that vets give.  Do they want more cheap graduates to hire regardless of how many become unemployed?  Are they  scared of the implications if their employer/clients find out their real feelings?  Maybe retired vets or vets who have changed profession provide more realistic advice.

Veterinarians who have endured such an arduous journey all for the benefit of animals deserve significant respect.

Veterinary University Approximate Costs:

These figures may have altered since time of collection, have been rounded and may not reflect exact costs.  Living expenses, textbooks, surgical equipment,clinical attire, accommodation/transport for compulsory months of external rural rotations are additional expenses that are not included but can be quite significant as Australian cities have one of the highest living costs in the world.  Note that fee increases are occurring at a rate higher than inflation whilst veterinary wages are not keeping up with inflation.

All except Adelaide are accredited in the United Kingdom and it is quite likely Adelaide will gain accreditation when the first cohort graduates at the end of 2013.

Domestic commonwealth supported veterinary student fees are approximately $10k per year that is placed on a long term HELP debt, so $50k for 5 year degrees and $60k for 6 year degrees.  Students that have done a science degree with appropriate prerequisites may be eligible for a 4 year program.

Domestic full fee student costs are approximately $150k for a 5 year degree.

International full fee student costs are approximately $50k per year, so $230-300k for a five or six year degree.  Students that have done a science degree with appropriate prerequisites may be eligible for a 4 year program at about $150-250k.

MURDOCH, Perth (HECS entry requirement = 97.05), American (AVMA) accredited

6 year undergraduate (5 year postgraduate + 1 year animal science )

UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND, UQ (HECS entry requirement = OP 1/99, ATAR 99.05, GPA 5.8 for group 1), AVMA accredited

5 year undergraduate

JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY, JCU, TOWNSVILLE QLD

5 year undergraduate

UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE, UNIMELB, AVMA accredited (ATAR 98.5 plus 70% average in first two years)

6 year undergraduate (3 year doctorate  + 1 year veterinary bioscience  + 2 years science ) OR 4 year postgraduate

UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY, USYD, (HECS entry requirement = 97.35), AVMA accredited

6 year undergraduate + postgraduate

CHARLES STURT UNIVERSITY, WAGGA NSW, CSU (HECS entry requirement = OP 5/90, some have suggested an ATAR as low as 85 is sufficient for rural applicants)

6 years for school leavers

ADELAIDE UNIVERSITY (ATAR for undergraduate which doesn’t guarantee entry to doctorate = 98.65)

6 year undergraduate (3 year doctorate + 3 year veterinary bioscience  )  OR 3 year postgraduate

MASSEY UNIVERSITY, NEW ZEALAND, AVMA accredited

5 year undergraduate

APPLICATION – EXPERIENCE AND PERSONAL STATEMENT

Grades and marks count for a large component of entry and particularly more so at the sandstone city universities.  However maximising experience with vets and animals before entry can also assist, preferably more than 10 weeks.  Some universities prefer farm animal experience (eg. CSU) whilst other may prefer a mix of companion animals (cats, dogs), farm animals (horses, dairy cattle, pigs, chickens), and research.  Sometimes it may even be possible to obtain a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian to assist entry.

The answers to the personal statement will likely differ depending on the university involved.  It may help if the passion in your answer aligns with the focus of that particular university.  Most universities seem to have significant animal welfare, biosecurity, and animal disease research.  So check out any recent journal publications from that particular vet faculty and categorise them into a broad topic that may be of interest to that university.  Use of the STAR system (situation, task, action, result) can assist by adding a personal touch to applications.  The STAR method is useful for interviews as well.  Stanford has some practice questions for veterinary applicants.  Possible questions could include career plans, current experience, ethical dilemmas, veterinary knowledge or behavioral questions.  Providing evidence of previous experiences can assist the answers.

SUMMARY

For school leavers aim for the shortest, a 5 year undergraduate degree so you can start working earlier and learn important career long practical skills as soon as possible.  Gaining entry to the workforce one year earlier also provides an extra year of income at approximately $45,000 plus interest on any the investment of this money longterm.  Employers choose candidates based on skills and personality rather than university.

For postgraduate students aim for one of the 3 year postgraduate doctorate degrees although prerequisite subject requirements may mean that you need to complete it in slightly longer.

Note that the above are minimum costs as several students complete one or two degrees before they gain entry to the veterinary course and some students may repeat years.  Discussed elsewhere on this site is why the veterinary degree is one of the most expensive with the lowest return on investment for the years and cost of study.

It is not surprising with the rising unemployment of veterinary graduates that entrance score requirements are decreasing.  The University of Sydney requirements have decreased from an ATAR of 98.1 in 2010 to 97.35 in 2012 and there are reports of people getting in with 97.05 in 2013.  Most veterinary faculties have removed the required ATAR and replaced with something like ‘additional selection criteria’.  This hides the declining prestige and employment prospects of the degree.

How do vet wages measure up? Nurses, Teachers, Police

Compare Courses rates veterinary degrees as one of the worst returns on investment.

We have established previously that vet graduates earn $45k and the average wage is around $70k.  This is after a 5-6 year university degree.  At the upper end some specialist employees are earning $140k after another 3 or more years of training in addition to the 5-6 years for the veterinary degree.  Whilst practice owners are earning around $100k plus 12.6-16% profit on their multi-million dollar practice investment.

The graduate salaries for vets are the 19th lowest out of the 23 university degrees listed on Gradstats.  Veterinary wages also appear to be declining relative to other professions whilst those unable to get employment have quadrupled to 19%.

So lets compare a couple of other degrees:

TEACHERS (4yrs university or 1yr postgraduate or 12 weeks Teach for Australia) – Lower university costs than vets

Graduates:  $55k – Better than vets

Graduates unable to get employment:  25.1%-41.2% – Worse than vets

Average (high school teachers):  $75k – Similar to vets

Range:  $57k-92k for public, better for private – Similar to vets

Overall costs of study to income – Better than vets

Teachers also have 12 weeks off per year and less evening and weekend work.

NURSING (2yrs university with fast track, 3yrs without) – Lower university costs than vets

Graduates:  $50k – Better than vets

Graduates unable to get employment:  7.8-13.9% – Better than vets

Average:  $62 – Worse than vets

Range:  $50-130k – Similar to vets

Overall costs of study to income – Probably better than vets

POLICE (33 weeks training) – Lower training costs than vets

Graduates: $40k for first 12 weeks, $55k for next 21 weeks – Better than vets

Average:  $72k – Similar to vets

Range:  $40-162k – Similar to vets

Overall costs of training to income – Better than vets

We have also previously shown how an extra year at university can leave someone $275,000 worse off by retirement.  So for vets compared with the nursing degree that becomes about $825-1100k worse off with the extra 3-4 years at university.

Oversupply, Veterinary Salaries and Unemployment

GRADUATE WAGES AND UNEMPLOYMENT

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: $75k

(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. The repeat of the AVA survey in 2013 showed a massive rise in full time wages to around $83k, possibly due to the limitations.

vet wages 2013

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

We 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.

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 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

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

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.

AnnabelleAnne 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. Specialists in North America earn significantly more than Australians and a 2014 article shows the breakdown for some specialties.  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 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. However a 2014 report suggests that 5 years after graduation New Zealand veterinarians are only earning $57,474 for males (cf medicine on $113,762)
or $66,077 for females (cf medicine on $105,639).  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