Equine Veterinary Professionals Faring Better Financially

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Compensation levels are improving, but they still lag behind other specialties.

Equine veterinary medicine remains a tight market, according to a recent report. Equine practices struggle to hire equine veterinarians. And while compensation levels increased in 2023, veterinary professionals continue to face low compensation relative to other sectors, high student loan debt and long working hours. Providing emergency care 24/7/365 has become increasingly difficult and is likely contributing to attrition from the field. At the same time, equine practices are dealing with an evolution in ownership structures and are struggling to effectively leverage talent, time and technology.

The “2024 AVMA/AAEP Report on The Economic State of the Equine Veterinary Profession” examines major trends in veterinary education, employment and services. Three surveys informed the report: The AVMA Graduating Senior Survey, the AVMA Census of Veterinarians and the AVMA/AAEP Equine Efficiency Survey.


New graduates

The 2023 class of veterinary school graduates entered a robust market. Of those entering equine practice as an associate or intern, graduates received an average of 3.1 offers, compared with 2.7 in 2022. Seventy-eight percent of graduates chose an internship, compared with 70% in 2022, while the remaining 22% headed straight into full-time equine practice as associates, compared with 30% in 2022.

In 2023, 19.6% of all veterinary graduates opting to pursue an internship chose an equine internship. This was the second most popular choice, behind companion animal internships (73.2%). The primary reasons for pursuing an equine internship in 2022 included “Because I plan to apply for residency” (37%), “Because I feel I need more training before entering veterinary practice” (22.2%), and “I feel that my desired position requires an internship to obtain employment” (21.3%).

Among new associate equine veterinarians, 92% listed “mentorship” as at least one reason for selecting the situation they chose; 73% mentioned “location” and 84% mentioned “people.”

Compensation

Average starting salaries for graduates proceeding directly to equine practice have improved recently, according to the report. Historically, the equine segment of the market commanded the lowest starting salaries of all specialties, but it has caught up with mixed animal practices. That said, new graduates pursuing equine internships continue to be offered lower compensation, at an average of $44,822, compared with $56,054 for those pursuing companion animal internships.

There was a slight difference in the average starting salary of males and females accepting full-time associate positions in equine practice in 2023. The gender difference was greater among those accepting equine internships. Overall, 2023 graduates entering full-time equine practice were less likely to negotiate their starting salaries than graduates entering food-animal-predominant, companion-animal, and mixed-animal practices. Although males were more likely than females to negotiate their salary in other types of specialties, the opposite was true in equine practice in 2023.

The survey shows that for associates in equine practice, prior internship experience has little impact on gross annual income. However, for practice owners, prior internship experience does bring with it a financial benefit, though the study did not examine specific reasons why.

Average DVM student loan debt has declined since 2020 for all new graduates with debt, including those entering equine practice or equine internships. Loan debt appears to be one area in which the equine cohort fares better than its peers, as 20.1% reported zero debt in 2023, compared with 16.7% for all new graduates combined.

Market for veterinarians

In 2022, approximately 124,000 veterinarians were actively engaged in private or public practice in the U.S. Of them, 3.1% were in equine practice. Sixty percent of equine veterinarians were women, and 40% were men. Average age was 49 years, average experience 21 years, and percentage white 97%. Not surprisingly, at the end of 2022, California, Texas and Florida – the three most populated states in the U.S. for people as well as for horses – had the most equine veterinarians.

The pandemic negatively impacted the number of jobs posted to equine job boards in 2020, but postings have since doubled. And 17% of associate equine veterinarians reported working in a regional or national group of practices in 2022.

 

Purchase a copy of the “2024 AVMA/AAEP Report on The Economic State of the Equine Veterinary Profession”

 

Get answers to questions such as:

  • What percentage of equine veterinarians work in a specialty/referral hospital with full service, how many work in an ambulatory haul-in facility, and how many in ambulatory only?
  • How has average income trended since 2016?
  • What percentage of equine veterinarians own their own practice?
  • What employer benefits do equine veterinarians typically receive?
  • How many hours per week do full-time equine veterinarians work?
  • How satisfied are equine veterinarians with their careers?
  • What percentage of equine veterinary practices employ practice management software? How about online pharmacy?

 

Photo Credit: Iryna Inshyna/JackF

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