Of all the drawbacks to this profession of ours, one of the constants has been low pay for vets and vet nurses compared to their nearest other equivalents.
Vets have an average salary of about £43,000 compared to, for example, solicitors (average of £60,000) or doctors in general practice (£62,000 to £93,000 if employed). Similarly, vet nurses average around £23,000 compared to human nurses (average £33,000). Vet nurses’ (referred to hereafter as registered veterinary nurses (RVNs)) salaries are low compared to the national average salary of £38,000 (Office for National Statistics figure), and one of the main issues is that RVN pay has a very low ceiling. So, for a newly qualified RVN, who might not be degree educated, the starting salary is not too bad – the problem is that it does not go up very much. There are, of course, exceptions, and RVNs in referral centres, head nurses, etc, all do better.
The pay problem for vets is similar. In today’s money as an employed vet, for an entire career you are probably looking at starting at about £32,000, plateauing in a few years to around the average vet’s wage of £43,000, and then not much will happen after that unless you get a certificate or own or co-own a practice. By far the most profitable route for vets (or RVNs) is to start your own practice from scratch, but that is a long-term project and has other demands that many are not willing to take on. I had a very interesting conversation over lunch with someone from a large, well-established veterinary company about this – about how they were starting to facilitate the start-up process it as a sort of silent partner. As she put it, “You would have to try quite hard to start a vet practice and it not be profitable.” So, their company takes some of the risk and guarantees the investment. Maybe I will talk more on that in another instalment…
By far the most profitable route for vets (or RVNs) is to start your own practice from scratch, but that is a long-term project and has other demands
Back to nurses’ pay: there has recently been something of a social media campaign on
various veterinary social media sites. The campaign centres on the hashtag “#RVN30k”, with the “30k” being the target salary that RVNs should be paid (which equates to about £15 per hour). This would lift vet nurses nicely into a pay scale that would put them above other non-veterinary jobs that they could leave practice and walk across the street for at their current hourly rates. This target salary would massively help with nurse retention across the whole profession. There is no NHS for pets (see my previous article!) and as such there has never been a set pay scale for vets and nurses either. The continued march of corporate takeovers has reduced variability as they usually have set pay scales within their organisation, which in turn are set to be similar to their competitors.
Drawing these threads together, a huge announcement was made this month to the staff of Medivet, a large corporate that owns 350 practices and employs numerous nurses. Some of you reading this article will work for them and will have heard already, but they have just made the decision to start all RVNs on a salary of £30,000 per annum (FTE) and move all current RVNs to this as a minimum wage. This is a huge step. It means that RVNs will start on a higher salary than teachers (who more than likely have a degree), and they will start on more than doctors (with a five-year medical degree). They will even start on more than a lot of vets were starting on a few years ago.
To effect change in a whole system you sometimes need a blunt instrument. The change has to be radical and shock a failing system
This is quite a blunt instrument; it means that a 19-year-old with no A-levels and a three-year apprenticeship will be on more than a teacher. Not only that, but they will have a head start of three years by missing out doing a degree. If you do the maths and calculate yearly earnings from the age of 16 for a future vet and future RVN starting on £30,000 it will not be until their late thirties that the vet catches up with the nurse (assuming they both work full time)! If you add on a student loan, you can add a few more years.
With £30,000 as a starting salary for RVNs, it is now what it should be for young people – a serious job with a serious salary that you can live on
But to effect change in a whole system you sometimes need a blunt instrument. The change has to be radical and shock a failing system. With £30,000 as a starting salary for RVNs, it is now what it should be for young people – a serious job with a serious salary that you can live on.