Except for a one-year stint in private practice for my internship, all of my full-time work has been in academia. I did work part-time for an emergency practice in Atlanta for years, but that was as an independent contractor, not a W2 employee. I’ve always heard “Oh the benefits in academia are great!” I never really thought about it until I started learning more about retirement accounts, and what veterinarians in private practice get in terms of benefits. Let’s look at the types of benefits you might get working in academia, and I’ll share my experience for each one.
Most employers should offer a 401k, where you can put money to reduce your tax burden and save for retirement. Some companies will provide a match, which is an amount they put in if you put in a similar amount. No veterinary corporation I know of offers a pension, which is a set amount of money you get paid forever when you retire. I have a pension already from one school where I worked, and will get a second if I work at my current institution for another 8 years. The second institution where I worked, they put 10% of your salary into a 403b without you having to contribute anything. No match, just free money. This was basically a 10% pay bump on your salary. Some will offer 457 plans for those of us who want to save even more aggressively for retirement- almost no small practices will and few corporations will offer a 457 plan. You will never get a pension or that kind of great deal unless you work for a university or the government.
Everyone acknowledges America’s healthcare system is messed up, so the reality is you need health insurance if you live here. You can usually pay your premiums before tax, and most companies will pay part of your premiums. Universities often have amazing health insurance, with the employer paying a substantial chunk of the premiums. One university where I worked had a high deductible health plan and gave you $1500 every year into your health savings account. Again, just free money.
Corporations are starting to improve on this, but universities still beat the majority of them. All the institutions where I have worked give 3 weeks of vacation time, on top of major holidays and, sometimes, a whole week over the Christmas/New Years time. Not many companies or private practices can match that.
If you’re a veterinarian, you NEED disability insurance. If you don’t have it, stop reading this article and research how to get some. We run the risk of suffering real physical injury in our jobs- bites, scratches, being kicked by a horse- which could make working impossible. Most private practices don’t even offer this, and you have to get it on your own. Every university for whom I have worked includes it as part of the deal, and facilitates you buying more coverage if you need it.
My current institution pays out $35k if I die and I don’t have to pay for that. Not a lot of money, but better than a kick in the teeth. I can elect to buy up to 5x my salary as a death benefit for a fairly low premium.
I earned two Master’s degrees without paying a cent. One of my friends at the last place I worked is doing the same thing with an online Master’s. I have looked into getting a PhD at my current employer- again, without paying a cent. Many of them provide a decreased tuition for children or even spouses. Maybe some big corporations will offer something like this, but it won’t be nearly as good of a deal. This is unique to working for universities.
Every university for whom I have worked has an on-site medical clinic you can go to for basic care. Just walk on over or take the bus. Services are often quite inexpensive, as they also serve the student body. I don’t think any non-university veterinary hospital has a medical clinic you can go to for yourself. Two of the universities for whom I have worked offer some benefit if you do healthy things. Currently I get $120 off my health insurance every year for doing a screening on campus. I think some companies offer something for healthy living nowadays, but probably not many small practices.
The institution where I worked the majority of my career didn’t have sabbatical leave, so I don’t know much about it. In reading up at my current institution, it looks like I can take 1-2 semesters “off” work after 5 years of service. Obviously, I need to be doing something professional-related while taking this time off. I’m thinking about going to a little island in Ireland to write a book. Does your non-academic job give you sabbatical leave? I didn’t think so.
I’ve talked before about how amazing I think it is to work in academia. It’s intellectually challenging and offers a great lifestyle. People always say how the benefits in academia (and working for the government, to a lesser extent) are pretty nice, so here are the big ones spelled out. It’s a pretty sweet gig. Why NOT work for a university?