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There is a price for higher education in the US, and veterinary medicine is no exception.
In 2020, the cost of a 4-year veterinary education at accredited institutions in the US ranged from $170,742 to $289,597 for in-state residents and from $222,612 to $481,514 for nonresidents; these numbers are anticipated to grow along with the overall rising costs of education.1,2 In addition, 40% of veterinary students matriculating in the US with a projected graduation date of 2024 had already accrued debt from their undergraduate coursework,2 and mean educational indebtedness acquired during the veterinary degree program by the 82% of graduates who left with debt at the end of the 2020 academic year was $178,585.2
The financial toll of education does not necessarily end at graduation. Mean annual salaries reported by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges for academic internship and residency positions secured through the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program for the 2020–2021 training year were $28,3723 and $35,098.4 By comparison, mean reported annual starting salaries for new veterinarian graduates in public and private practice were $71,422 and $86,920, respectively.5 The low salaries for individuals who pursue postgraduate veterinary training contribute to the overall number of years of lost income for veterinarians6 and exacerbate the already high debt-to-income ratio.
The poverty threshold is considered the minimum level of income adequate to provide essential resources for a human being. In the US in 2020 for a single person under 65, the poverty threshold was $12,760. A living wage is a more accurate estimate of the minimum income required for an individual to meet their basic needs, such as food, housing, transportation, and clothing, and to avoid reliance on subsidies from the government and other public entities. This latter point separates the living wage from the poverty threshold, which does not necessarily prevent the need for federal assistance programs. The living wage varies by household type and location because of variations in necessities and costs of living imposed situationally and regionally.
The living wage also does not consider funds necessary for things such as dining out, prepared meals, entertainment and other social activities, health club memberships, paying off debt, or establishing personal savings. As a minimum subsistence income, a living wage would not provide great economic security or contribute substantially to many of the other things traditionally valued as improving the quality of life and general well-being that can help counter the effects of compassion fatigue and mental illness.
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