Would you still pick veterinary medicine as your career? Would you attend veterinarian school again? To find out, in a June poll, we asked that question. With just over 100 responses so far, the results are discouraging.
The majority of respondents, 42%, said No, and 20% said they Didn’t Know. Only 38% said Yes, they would do it again.
Why are vets and vet students regretting their decision to pursue a career in veterinary medicine? I feel confident in concluding that the change of heart cannot be blamed on the animals. I would wager that every person who has responded to our poll thus far still really cares about animals. So what’s the problem?
I’ve been digging around, reading articles, reviewing responses on veterinary message boards, scouring social media, and studying the most recent AVMA Report on the Market for Veterinarian’s (published this month) to come up with answers.
I’ve concluded the following five factors are the greatest contributors to vet school remorse:
Every animal patient comes with an owner. Every job comes with co-workers. Both have the potential to negatively impact overall satisfaction with your veterinary career. Some of us deal with the human aspect better than others. It helps to have a tough skin, but a lot of us just don’t. The ability to empathize can be a fabulous strength, and a detrimental curse. For many, the negative impact of the people-factor outweighs the reward of working with animals.
The average veterinarian student loan debt of a veterinary graduate is just over $160,000, for those who have debt at all. This number has been rising by over $6000 per year for the past 15 years. And 16% of new grads have debt in excess of $225,000. Only 11% of vet school grads report having no student loan debt. Some vets do not find the return on investment worth the ongoing sacrifice.
The average starting salary in veterinary private practice is just over $70,000. And private practice has the highest starting salary of any discipline. Starting salaries have been increasing at about $1600 per year. Interestingly, when considering private practice jobs, the highest starting salaries are for new grads joining large animal exclusive practices. The second highest is companion animal exclusive, and the lowest is equine exclusive. It’s hard to pay off those student loans at these salaries and many sacrifice quality of life in other areas in order to service their debt load.
Factors aside from people, debt and salary create stress for veterinarians. Performing euthanasias, completing surgeries, managing complex medical or emergency cases and a million other things can all be very stressful. New grads who land in practices that do not provide mentorship compounds the stress.
And it doesn't help that many DVMs have Type A personalities! We tend to blame ourselves when the result is anything less than perfection. Thankfully, there are more resources now than ever before designed to combat the impact of stress on veterinary professionals. However, for many it’s still not worth it.
We don’t know what we don’t know. Veterinary medicine is not the only career that involves animals, but many future vets don’t know that when they decide to go to vet school. They don't realize until after the fact that job opportunities exist in a variety of animal science fields for which they may have been better suited.
Some chose veterinary medicine as a means of completing a medical doctor degree in a shorter period of time. Later they realize that for just a little more time they could have gone to human medical school, made significantly more money, and had considerably less stress.
Others just didn’t realize what the job really required. The reality of working weekends and late evenings, being on-call for emergencies, and losing their anonymity is more than some DVMs bargained for. Sure, not all jobs are like that. But many are, especially for new grads.
Ultimately, career satisfaction is different for each of us, and likely to wax and wane over time. It is my hope that this article will help vet students become better educated consumers.
I also hope that graduate veterinarians will take a moment to complete our poll and share their candid thoughts regarding their choice of occupation.
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