Forecast: Salary outlook not grim, not great
National Report — Salaries might be flat this year, but the demand for veterinary services remains strong, DVMs say.
"I'm trying to look a year or so (out) ... and hopefully beyond that we can grow," says Dr. Michael Andrews, a Riverside, Calif., veterinarian and president of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
While how much pay they take home has ranked No. 2, behind balancing work and personal life, several times in DVM Newsmagazine polls, veterinarians unhappy with their earnings number almost 7 percent more in the latest survey, covering the last three years.But Jim Flanigan of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) points out that his group's most recent salary survey shows veterinarians are making more than ever, with salaries increasing about 6 percent annually since 1997.
Some areas are growing more than others, he adds, so those looking for their income to rise in the future might want to consider their specialty. Incomes in food-animal, large-animal and academia fields are rising, but companion-animal salaries are more difficult to predict. Classified ads seeking companion-animal veterinarians in AVMA publications are down, and that field is more closely linked to consumer confidence.
"This is the worst recession any of us have seen in our lifetimes. None of us has experienced as professionals what we're seeing now, so it's very difficult to predict," Flanigan says. "I would expect that as the economy recovers that incomes will continue to rise, probably at rates we have seen in the past."
Food-animal veterinarians might get an added boost, though, as commodity prices possibly drive herd sizes, and veterinary workloads, higher.
A year of flat growth is more likely, though, according to Andrews, who remains hopeful the worst of the recession will only last about a year.
But there is a bright side, he says."We're lucky as veterinarians in that I don't think any of us will be out work. There will always be a need for what we do. We might not be growing as much as we like, but owners and associates can take the opportunity [when business is down] to cement client bonds, potentially shorten our work week or spend more time with family and hobbies," Andrews says.
The economic climate might allow veterinarians to gain more work/life balance, while at the same time forcing business owners to make tough decisions about staffing and cost control.
'There are times when you have to make those tougher decisions, and this is one of those times," Andrews says. "We know it will get better, whether it's six months, a year, two years ... you just have to keep in mind that will happen and try to make the decisions now that will help you though those months or years, no matter what they might be."
While both agree salaries won't take a beating, they also believe new graduates will be hurt the most. The AVMA will look specifically at job opportunities available to new graduates in its next salary survey, Flanigan says.
"It will be interesting to see the number of graduating seniors who have job opportunities," he says. "One of the current concerns is that we may see a jump in the number of graduating veterinarians without job offers."