— Female veterinarians have closed the profession's demographic gap, but the disparity between men's and women's salaries is widening.
Recent figures from the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Biennial Economic Survey of Veterinarians, for which data was collected in 2009, indicates there is an 11 percent gap between starting salaries for male and female veterinary associates compared to a 6 percent difference just two years ago.
Starting salaries for men in the veterinary profession also are rising faster than for women. On average, beginning pay for male associates rose from $47,780 in 2006 to $52,478 in 2009—a 9 percent increase. Female associates in 2009 were paid on average $47,472 compared to $44,831 in 2006, representing a 6 percent increase.
The overall increase in starting salaries across the entire profession was 29 percent over the last decade, with companion-animal exclusive veterinarians seeing the largest gain at a 67 percent increase and equine associates earning 35 percent more during the 10-year period.
Income levels fell off for some veterinarians over the last two years. Male food-animal exclusive owners earned 5 percent less on average from 2007 to 2009, compared to a 13 percent drop among female owners. Food-animal exclusive male associates earned 4 percent less and female associates earned nearly 5 percent more over the same period.
Income levels for male and female associates working in companion-animal exclusive practices increased equally by 7 percent from 2007 to 2009, but for companion-animal owners, men saw a gain of 6 percent and women saw a gain of about 16 percent.
Equine practice owners went in the other direction; male veterinarians earned 2 percent more in 2009 over 2007, and female veterinarians earned 16 percent less. Male associates in equine practices earned 1 percent more over the same period, compared to female associates, who earned 5 percent less.
As a whole, however, the profession saw income levels increase, despite several years of economic recession.
Mean professional income of veterinarians in private practice increased from $115,447 in 2007 to $121,303 in 2009—a 5 percent increase. The national rate of inflation for the same time period was roughly 3 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index.
Food-animal exclusive veterinarians earned the highest mean professional income at $131,479, compared to equine veterinarians at $126,641 and companion-animal exclusive veterinarians at $124,768. Professional veterinary salaries overall increased by about 5.2 percent annually from 1999 to 2009, according to AVMA.
Income by practice type
Levels of income by practice type varied greatly from 2007 to 2009, ranging from an 8 percent decrease in annual salary for mixed-animal practice owners to a 3 percent decrease for companion-animal predominant owners. Overall, the salaries of private practice owners increased almost 4 percent, from $146,374 in 2007 to $152,030 in 2009. Owners reported a median increase of almost 59 percent over the last decade.
A mean increase of almost 69 percent was reported for associates in private practice from 1999 to 2009. Mean salaries increased 5 percent across the board from 2007 to 2009, from $89,694 to $94,250. Food-animal predominant associates saw a 13 percent increase in salaries, compared to equine associates with a decrease of almost 4 percent.
Part-time male veterinary associates earned 39 percent more per hour than females in 2009 (with men earning an average of $82.45 per hour compared to the $59.36 per hour earned by women) while part-time male owners out-earned their female counterparts by 87 percent (with male owners earning an average of $250.22 per hour compared to the $133.81 per hour earned by females). In comparison, part-time male practice owners earned 98 percent more than females in 2007, and male part-time associates earned about 50 percent more.
Income levels for relief veterinarians over the last two years changed only slightly, with annual incomes increasing 4 percent from 2007 to 2009 and hourly rates increasing 2 percent. The mean number of hours worked by relief veterinarians increased only slightly from 42.8 hours per week to 43 hours per week.
Hours for others in the profession dropped over the same two-year period, with full-time owners and associates working about an hour less a week in 2009 compared to 2007. Owners of companion-animal-predominant practices were the only ones to increase the number of hours they worked in 2009, while mixed-animal associates saw the only increase.
Income by education level
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Companion-animal veterinarians who earned board-certification reported making about 56 percent more on average than their colleagues with only a DVM. Equine veterinarians and food-animal exclusive veterinarians reported making 58 percent and 38 percent more, respectively.
Veterinary ophthalmologists earned the highest mean salary ($215,120) compared to other board-certified veterinarians. Lab-animal medicine veterinarians followed with a mean salary of $175,034, while zoo veterinarians had a reported mean salary of $97,355.
Lab-animal veterinarians ranked at the top back in 2007 with a mean salary of $178,417, followed by emergency and critical-care veterinarians ($179,974).
Theriogenologists came in last with a mean salary of $109,618. In 2007, ophthalmologists ranked third with a mean salary of $164,562 and zoo veterinarians were second to last, with a mean salary of $118,961.
Salaries by region
There's no question that some parts of the country have been more hard-hit by the lagging economy, and income levels reported to AVMA illustrate this trend.
Mixed-animal veterinarians in areas with populations under 2,500 fared better financially than those in cities with more than 500,000 people, with salaries ranging from $100,190 to $90,889, respectively. The mean salary for mixed-animal veterinarians in cities with 50,000 to 500,000 people was $115,358.
Companion-animal exclusive veterinarians in cities with less than 2,500 reported a mean salary of $118,517 compared to $143,736 in cities with more than 500,000 people.
Companion animal-exclusive veterinarians in the Northeast make the most, with an average income of $130,550 compared to $127,667 in the South, $109,786 in the Midwest and $129,604 in the Western United States. Food-animal exclusive veterinarians in the West reported the highest incomes, with a mean of $176,255 compared to $127,756 in the Midwest, $119,802 in the South and $98,611 in the Northeast.