AVMA salary survey shows DVMs earning more


Schaumburg, Ill. - In most cases, veterinarian's incomes having been increasing by 6 percent a year since 1997.

Schaumburg, Ill. — In most cases, veterinary incomes have been increasing at an average annual rate of 6 percent since 1997, according to the AVMA's Report on Veterinary Compensation released in late November.

Table 1: 2007 mean professional income of private practice owners and associates

Over the 10-year period from 1997 to 2007, incomes for owners went up $66,000 and incomes for associates went up $39,000.

In 1997, owners earned $80,841 compared to $146,374 in 2007. Associates earned $50,333 in 1997 and $89,694 in 2007.

The AVMA credits rising incomes to increased economic viability and attractiveness to future veterinarians.

"We've probably corrected for what had historically been an under-compensation of vets," says Jim Flanigan, AVMA's director of marketing.

Table 2: Mean professional income of private practice owners and associates 1997-2007 Trends in real (1997 dollars)

The gender gap

While incomes are increasing, female veterinarians continue to earn less than their male counterparts.

The trend is a national phenomenom.

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 77.8 cents. In the veterinary profession, that disparity is even greater.

Females in private veterinary practice earn 66 percent of what men do.

"It's a very complex problem," Flanigan says.

"In some cases, we did see it closing, in some cases we didn't," he says.

In private practice, the average annual growth rate of salaries is 6.5 percent for men and 6.8 percent for women.

The only practice types that bucked the trend of men having a higher annual growth rate were companion-animal exclusive and equine practitioners. Women in companion-animal exclusive practice saw a growth rate of 6.4 percent from 2005 to 2007, compared to 3.8 percent for men.

Women in equine practices saw a 5.4 growth rate compared to 2.3 percent for men.

"That 34 percent gap is consistent among all practice types," Flanigan says. "Women are making at least one-third less than men. Two key factors contribute to veterinary income — ownership status and years of experience."

The average salary of a male owner is $158,910, while the average salary of a female owner is $115,768, or 27 percent less.

Male associates are earning $102,672 compared to female associates who bring in $83,106, or 19.1 percent less.

Consider this: While the wage gap increases with level of experience, starting salaries are much closer.

Males in companion-animal-exclusive practice started out earning $66,266 in 2008, compared to females who started at $64,318.

"In terms of associate numbers, the nature of that segment of practice naturally weeds out older veterinarians," Flanigan says. "Owners, on the other hand, can have a very wide range of experience. The mean age of a female associate is less than the mean age of a male. Even after you compare and take into consideration ownership status and age, the gap still exists."

A portion of the compensation report compares income of owners and associates by years since graduation and gender.

In nearly every experience level and every practice type, men earned more.

A male companion-animal-exclusive practice owner with 15 to 19 years' experience earned $162,280 in 2007, compared to $89,374 for a female owner with the same level of experience.

The gap between male and female associates in a companion-animal-exclusive practice was narrower, but still existed. A male associate with five to nine years' experience earned $89,909 in 2007, compared to $82,000 for a female with the same experience.

Karen E. Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, and CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, says there isn't just a single piece of data that explains why the disparity exists.

"I don't think we 100 percent know why the disparity exists and just looking at the raw data like this doesn't show the whole story," she says. "In veterinary medicine, it's just been in the last 10 years that women have come into the profession in droves. Is there discrimination? Of course there is discrimination. It exists in every profession."

But she doesn't believe it is any more profound in veterinary medicine than in any other profession.

More work needs to be done to fully understand this issue and differences in management styles, Felsted adds.

Do female owners charge as much as male owners? Do they pay their staff more than males? Do they discount more, and what size is their practice?

It's a well-documented fact that men generally are better at negotiating salaries than women, but no one has looked at hours worked by gender and level of experience while taking into account all of those other factors, Felsted says.

And while this issue is on the radar screen of several organizations, there currently aren't any specific initiatives planned to address it, not because of a lack of concern but because it's a difficult issue and there doesn't seem to be a clear path to pursue, she says.

"I suppose for it to change, women will have to become more involved and then we also have to deal with the satisfaction issues," Felsted says. "If women are satisfied with what they are making now, how do you change that?

Public practice

Wages also continue to be uneven in salaries within the public sector.

The median income of veterinarians in public employment, in government or university settings, was between $79,000 and $103,000, whereas the median professional income of veterinarians in private practice in 2007 ranged from $91,000 to $109,000.

"Incomes of private practitioners are market-dependent, and the market has been very healthy for private practice," Flanigan says. "Those in public and corporate practice and those who work in university settings are not paid necessarily a market-based salary. While the market for private practice is escalating, the nature of the economy has kept a lid on those (government and university) salaries, which might explain why we are having a difficult time attracting veterinarians."

The slow-to-grow salaries are one of the most important issues relevant to veterinary medicine the government needs to address, he says.

The price of practice

The AVMA Report on Veterinary Practice Business Measures also was released last month, showing the median net practice income for 2007.

The 2007 median net income for private practices was $174,363, down from $203,255 in 2005.

From 2005 to 2007, median net income increased for food-animal-exclusive, mixed-animal and equine practices.

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