New equine practitioners’ salaries see big increase

Historically, the salaries of veterinary graduates entering equine practice have been lower than those entering other areas of clinical practice.

According to AVMA Graduating Senior Survey data, 1%-2% of veterinary graduates enter equine practice directly each year, and another 4%-5% pursue further training in equine internship positions. Within five years, however, 50% of these veterinarians leave equine medicine for small animal practice or quit veterinary medicine altogether, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).

The AAEP attributes the attrition from equine practice primarily to work-related burnout, high educational debt, and lower starting salaries, compared with companion animal practice.

Veterinarian helping a brown horse

But the tide appears to be turning for salaries, as average offers for veterinary graduates entering equine practice have jumped from $65,000 in 2021 to $95,000 in 2023. The data was announced at the annual AVMA Business and Economic Forum, held virtually October 24-25.

“For the longest time, equine veterinarians had really low averages compared to the rest of their graduating cohort,” said Charlotte McKay, AVMA associate director for statistical and geospatial analysis and senior economist. “To see that is commendable and shows the effort of AAEP and practice owners recognizing the importance of compensation for equine vets.

“It shows when we pull together to create creative solutions, only good can come out of it,” she added.

Equine compensation quickly closing the gap - chart

The AAEP formed a Commission on Equine Veterinary Sustainability a year-and-a-half ago to address the issue of retention. The focus has been on five areas: compensation, strategies for effective emergency coverage, veterinary practice culture, internships, and supporting the growth and development of the equine veterinary student.

In that time, commission members have written guidance documents, such as Best Practices for AAEP Internship Program Practices, tools like an Employee Reward & Recognition Assessment, and surveys, including the 2022 AAEP Equine Medicine Salary & Lifestyle Survey.

David Foley, executive director of the AAEP, said he’d like to think the AAEP commission’s efforts over the last 18 months have had an impact on the salary boost.

“It’s really all we’ve talked about within the membership for the last year and in every communication platform and channel we have, so highlighting the awareness of some of these challenges has had an impact,” Foley said. “If you want to attract and keep associates, they need to be better compensated, be part of a good practice culture that respects boundaries, and help them create a better work-life balance.”