Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
High inflation rates and the subsequent cost-of-living crisis are having a widespread, global impact. Between 2021 and 2022, the economy-wide inflation rate reached 6.8%. But with the cost of living increasing, what changes can we expect in the veterinary sector? How will inflation affect veterinary salaries?
How is high inflation affecting vet practices?
Just like in other industries, and our personal lives, high inflation has made day-to-day running of veterinary practices more expensive. Consumables, equipment, utilities, and external add-on services like laboratories and mobile imaging are all increasing in price, while veterinary business owners are facing pressure for wage increases from their veterinary staff. After all, vets and vet nurses need higher wages to counteract their higher living costs and make ends meet.
From this perspective, it’s fortunate that, despite pet owners being affected by the increased cost of living, pet ownership and demand for veterinary care have continued to rise. However, there’s also growing concern that veterinary care is becoming unaffordable for the general pet owner population, which could impact pet welfare if veterinary treatment is delayed or not sought at all. Similarly, as veterinary practices attempt to grow their team to accommodate the demand for timely veterinary care, their overall wage bill will also increase.
What other factors affect veterinary salaries?
It’s not just external demand for veterinary care that’s growing, there’s also a profession-wide shortage of vets, especially in the UK. Brexit has caused a lack of non-UK European vets available to work in the UK, and aside from that, many are leaving the profession worldwide due to factors like negative public perception, stress, and burnout.
The subsequent high demand for vets has meant that salaries are rising – to attract new and retain existing staff. There’s also a growing appreciation of the value of veterinary professionals, where they were previously undervalued and underpaid. Previously, vets were very likely to own their own practice during their career, which in some ways compensated for being poorly paid. However, since it’s now less of an option for vets to buy into a practice, there is more pressure to offer a better salary.
How are new graduate veterinary salaries changing?
The American Veterinary Medical Association announced in 2021 that veterinary starting salaries were increasing, with the debt-to-income ratio for new graduates dropping to its lowest value since 2008. In Canada, starting salaries grew by 10% in 2022. While this is a positive change, it’s not shared throughout the profession.
What’s the general veterinary salary trend?
According to the British Veterinary Association, there have been above-average increases in veterinary salaries in the UK. However, with inflation also rising significantly, veterinary staff aren’t really better off. When accounting for inflation, there’s a small drop in the mean vet income in the US, and in the UK, less than 10% of veterinary staff received a pay rise above the level of inflation, with almost one in five not receiving a pay rise at all in the previous 12 months.
So, although wage increases seem to be heading in the right direction, with a high inflation rate, this doesn’t translate into financial security. Another factor to consider is that busy practices that are short-staffed don’t make the best working environments, so even an elevated salary may not compensate for the pressure, stress, or exhaustion and the potential impact of these on mental health.
It’s not all bad news worldwide though, Statistics Canada looked back at 2018 to 2023 and they found that the salaries of assistant vets had risen well above the inflation rate due to factors like demand and recognition of value.
Make sure to check out our Global Vet Salary Report for more information on the general trends and salaries worldwide.
Is it the same for veterinary nurses?
Veterinary nurse salaries are also increasing in the UK, with salaries of those with up to two years, two to five years, and over five years of experience increasing by 17%, 27%, and 16%, respectively. However, as another previously poorly paid profession, this is unlikely to counteract the effects of inflation.
Where does it end?
In the longer term, if the inflation rate continues to increase, there could be concerning consequences for pets and their owners. As running a veterinary practice and paying veterinary staff becomes more expensive, the cost of veterinary care will also increase, likely outside of the realm of affordability for the average pet owner. Similarly, wage increases cannot continue indefinitely, and more and more veterinary staff could find themselves in need of financial support.
What can you do if you’re struggling with the cost of living?
It’s best to inform your employer of any financial struggles. If you haven’t recently had your salary reviewed, approach your employer and organise a meeting. It’s a good idea to do some preparation – write down key points that demonstrate your value to the practice and emphasise how far you’ve come since you started. Acknowledge any additional training you’ve received and extra responsibilities that you have.
While veterinary wages are rising due to high demand and recognition of value, staff are not always better off due to even higher inflation rates. With veterinary staff struggling with the cost of living, and widespread concern about the increasing costs of veterinary care, there appears to be no immediate answer.
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