Starting Veterinarian Salaries in America

As highly trained veterinary care professionals, veterinarians are a vital component of the pet and animal care sector in the United States.

With an education that is in many respects equivalent to that of a physician, the veterinarian may work in fields ranging from rural and urban pet care to working with exotic animals in zoos and wildlife management programs.

For this reason, veterinarians may enjoy a wide range of salaries and benefits when entering this profession.

Becoming a Veterinarian

Becoming a veterinarian involves a great deal of training. Veterinarians have usually obtained at least a bachelor’s degree before entering veterinary school, as most schools require that all candidates complete a large number of science related courses, including courses in biology, zoology and animal science.

In general, most states require veterinarians to complete the following steps:

  • Obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at an accredited veterinary school.
  • Pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE).
  • Most states require that applicants also complete a state jurisprudence exam, focusing on the veterinarian’s rights and duties under state law.

Veterinary Schools

Veterinary schools are post-graduate institutions and have a very competitive admissions process.

These programs cover all aspects of animal care and are typically three years in length.

In addition to classroom work, students in a veterinary program will be exposed to extensive laboratory and clinical instruction, including working under the direction of licensed veterinarians while providing care for ill or injured animals.

Veterinary schools are full-time institutions and most of the academic and clinical courses require that the student physically attend the school. This generally renders it impossible for a student to work while attending classes. In many cases, students will use student loans or grants to subsidize their living expenses during this period.

In order to be accepted by state licensing agencies, a veterinary school must be an accredited institution.

The agency in charge of accrediting veterinary schools is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA periodically reviews veterinary programs to ensure that they comply with the professional and academic standards of the field of veterinary medicine. Students should ensure that their school is currently in good standing with the AVMA.


The NAVLE is a comprehensive exam designed to determine the candidate’s academic and practical skills in veterinary medicine. Administered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, this exam is regularly updated by veterinary professionals to ensure that it remains current with the modern practice of veterinary medicine. This exam is a very complex one and so graduates should only take the examination when they are confident of their ability to pass it.

State Jurisprudence Exams

Due to the complexity of the law as it relates to veterinarians and veterinary practices, many states also require the candidate to successfully complete a jurisprudence exam before being licensed.

Jurisprudence examinations focus on the individual’s understanding of his or her rights and responsibilities under state law. In most cases, the candidate can take the exam as many times as necessary and some state exams are also open book tests.

Career Opportunities for New Veterinarians

There is a wide range of career opportunities for new veterinarians in America. Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there are 61,000 practicing vets in the United States. Furthermore, the BLS estimates that the number of veterinarians will increase by 36 percent, to a total of over 83,000 vets by 2020. This rate of increase is well above the average rate of job creation in America.

Career opportunities for veterinarians include the following areas of work:

  • Urban and rural veterinary clinics continue to rapidly grow in number due to the need for high quality pet care.
  • Equine and large animal veterinarians provide care for private and commercially owned horses.
  • Research veterinarians work in labs, helping develop treatments for humans and animals alike.
  • Food animal veterinarians work with cows, pigs and other food and production animals. They ensure that the animal is raised in a healthy manner as well as ensuring that its products are safe for human consumption.

Salary Opportunities for Veterinarians

Even starting veterinarians are well-paid individuals. The BLS estimates that the median annual salary for a veterinarian is over $82,000, while the average starting salary for the typical pet-care veterinarian is over $69,000.

Even the lowest 10 percent of veterinarians earned nearly $50,000 per year. Furthermore, many vets who earn lower amounts practice in states with a low cost of living, leading to their compensation being higher than it would first seem.

However, the rate of pay for a starting vet can vary, depending on where he or she is working, and whether or not the vet is specializing in a high demand area. For example, while very competitive in their hiring, private zoos and animal clinics will often offer higher starting wages than a government career will.

Additionally, veterinarians practicing in states with a high cost of living, such as California or New York, may obtain a higher starting salary than those in other states.

Finally, a veterinarian can expect his or her salary to increase with experience. Veterinarians may earn well over $140,000, especially if they are working in a high demand specialty. In many cases, a starting veterinarian who exhibits a high degree of skill and commitment will quickly start earning far more than his or her initial salary.

Becoming a vet is both a personally and financially rewarding decision.

Whether the vet is intending to seek work in New York or Arizona, this field is a well-compensated one that is competitive with other medical and veterinary careers in the United States.

For those individuals who are interested in playing a vital role in the veterinary care sector, becoming a veterinarian is an excellent choice.

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