Despite high demand, laboratory animal veterinarians in short supply

Economic survey shows upward trend in specialists' salaries
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The mean income for laboratory animal veterinarians working in the United States in 2002 was $117,240—an 18.3 percent increase from 1999, according to an economic study released in July.

For the past two decades, the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners and American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine have surveyed their combined memberships every three years to assess their income levels.

One of the more significant findings of the Salary Survey of Laboratory Animal Veterinarians for the Year 2002 is a steady upward trend in salaries for laboratory animal veterinarians at a rate exceeding inflation.

When the 1999 survey findings were corrected for inflation to 2002 constant dollars, using U.S. Bureau of Labor statistic measures, average income of laboratory animal veterinarians rose 9.6 percent in the past three years while inflation rose around 7.5 percent during the same period.

Also, secondary income for laboratory animal veterinarians, derived primarily from professional consulting, averaged $20,011 during 2002 compared with $15,006 in 1999—an increase of 33 percent.

A burgeoning biomedical industry and strict regulations governing the treatment and care of animals used in biomedical research have led to a growing demand in industry, academia, and the public sector for specially trained veterinarians.

Many of these institutions place a premium on veterinarians able to manage facilities housing thousands of animals and trained to look after nonhuman primates and genetically engineered mice. In addition, these specialists are needed to ensure that welfare regulations concerning the use of research animals are observed.

But far too few veterinarians are taking advantage of the opportunities in this nontraditional field, resulting in a national shortage in laboratory animal veterinarians. Estimates indicate that between 1,000 and 1,200 veterinarians are currently working in laboratory animal medicine in the United States.

The high salaries aren't a surprise, considering the low supply of specially trained veterinarians compared with the high demand of research institutions, according to ACLAM president, Dr. Diane J. Gaertner.

The economic surveys show salaries for laboratory animal veterinarians have risen, especially in the Northeast, Dr. Gaertner explained, adding this has been a trend for the past five to seven years.

A person trained in laboratory animal medicine could start with earnings as much as $100,000 on the East Coast, she said.

Many people become veterinarians out of their love for animals. But what they don't realize is they can also positively affect animal welfare in a research environment. "(People) don't think of laboratory animal veterinarians as the welfare advocates for thousands and thousands of experimental animals," Dr. Gaertner said.

Some 70,000 research animals are housed at the University of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Gaertner is director of university laboratory animal resources. Eight veterinarians at the university have a variety of daily responsibilities, including reviewing experiment protocols, ensuring that procedures are done correctly, that excessive numbers of animals aren't used in experiments, and appropriate anesthesia/analgesia are used.

Traditional economic thinking, according to Dr. Benjamin J. Weigler, co-chair of the ACLAM-ASLAP committee that wrote the latest survey, dictates that high salaries in a given career field will attract more people. But that isn't the case for laboratory animal medicine.

"It's very, very surprising," Dr. Weigler observed. "We seem to have a hard time getting veterinarians to become scientists or specialists in this arena."

The Salary Survey of Laboratory Animal Veterinarians for the Year 2002 can be viewed at