Choosing an Academic Job over Private Practice after your Residency

Vetducator - Faculty on clinic rotation image.

I have an obvious pro-academia bias. Because of that, I am frankly sometimes confused as to why people would choose private practice. Most clinical faculty members spend 40-70% of their time on clinics. I see this as getting paid to work only 5-8 months a year. How can working a full 12-month job in private practice compare? Let’s compare the two.

Academia Private Practice
Work Week 5 days a week Variable- possibility for 3 or 4 day work week
Hours/Day On clinics: up to 12
Off clinics: as little as 4
8-12 every day you work
Total clinic hours/year 800-1,250 (40% clinics)
1,450-2,200 (70% clinics)
1,900-3,100 (5 days @ 12 hours/day)
Teaching Students, interns,
Possibly interns, rarely students and residents
Research Required, easy to
Not required, possible to do
Income $110-140k starting Mostly $150-250k; up to $500k for some disciplines with a crushing work schedule
Contribution to Society Helping animals & owners, training next generation Helping animals & owners

From this breakdown, the salient differences from my point of view are: number of clinic work hours, type of work done, and income.  I don’t consider my non-clinic time “work”. I will probably mentor undergrads and vet students in research even when I retire. Now, if doing teaching and research is not fun for you, so you consider it “work” on par with being on clinic duty, then academia is not for you.  Conversely, if being on clinics is not “work” for you, then private practice is a solid choice.

Most people focus on the income difference, but to me this is meaningless. Even if you have student debt, a six-figure salary is a LOT of money. You can do just fine on an academic salary. Many institutions also allow you to do locums, so you can boost your income by $10-20k easily if needed. In any event, I don’t think you need to make as much as you think you do. Obviously, you have to be selective- $100k goes a lot further in Stillwater, OK than it does in Philadelphia, PA.

Everyone needs to make a decision which is right for them and their situation. I just get so frustrated when people focus on the salary difference. I understand some people want a BMW, but I think they just need to sit and really think about what they want out of life. I think the quality of life is so much better in academia, and no amount of money will make up for that. I’m always available to talk about it, so please reach out if you are considering a life in academia.

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