Can You Raise a Family On One Income As A Veterinarian?

I recently came across a blog post titled “How to Survive the Pressure as a Sole Income Earning Parent” by blogger Financial Samurai. He includes a poll at the end of the post that asked “Who Earns in Your Household?”. He then shared the results on Twitter, where he questions “How do we get the female sole income earning percentage up?”

Here were the results of that post:

  • Dual income earning household: 49%
  • Male sole income earner: 46%
  • Female sole income earner: 3%
  • Both not working (pension, passive income, social security): 2%
  • Other: 1%

Votes: 354

I understand that this is NOT a scientific poll. This poll more accurately describes his readership, who probably skew male. And there is an obvious bias towards those that chose to take part in this poll; this was not a randomized study.

But I was still intrigued by his question. What if someone asked a group of veterinarians how much they contribute to household income? There may already be a study or two regarding this very question- if you have a link, please post it in the comments!


Out of curiosity, I decided to make my own poll. I polled 2 separate groups on Facebook: a DVM mothers group (with over 9,700 members at the time of the poll) and my own Facebook group (Moms with a DVM- Money Talk), which had about 600 members at that time. Since the results were very similar between the two groups, I’ll just refer to the breakdown from the main group:

  • DVM breadwinner: 40%
  • Spouse breadwinner: 24%
  • Dual income- equal contribution: 22%
  • DVM Sole Income Earner: 12%
  • Spouse Sole Income Earner: 1%

Votes: 1,247

Again, this was not a scientific poll. Obviously, I was polling a niche group- veterinarians who also happen to be mothers. But the numbers are still interesting.

Based on these results, 74% of the respondents contributed either a sizable or the entire share of the household income.

For the 24% who had a spouse breadwinner, we could argue that for the majority of these households, the DVM income was still necessary to keep up with their desired lifestyle. I am apparently in the 1% of non-income earning DVM moms, which confirmed my thoughts about being a rare SAHM DVM.

That was the percentage breakdown. The comments that followed also yielded some interesting information.


There were a number of responses from women who have no choice but to be the sole income earner. Due to their own personal circumstances, their household is completely dependent on their income. They are doing it all by working and taking care of the household without the financial or emotional support of a significant other. A few respondents mentioned that they were receiving child support, but it was minimal.


Many women said that being a sole earner was feasible, but that the money was pretty tight.

Others expressed that they are doing fine, but they have to budget well in advance and make a conscious effort to live within their means.

Then there were those respondents who said it was completely feasible to be a female veterinarian sole income earner with no mention of any financial difficulties. It would be interesting to follow up with these women and see what types of jobs they were holding within the profession. For example, did most of these women own their own practices? Or were they associate veterinarians? Were they entrepreneurs? Did they work in an industry setting? Did they live in a high, medium, or low cost of living area?


Student loans….they never seem to go away. There is no doubt that student loan debt weighs heavily on many veterinarians. There were several commenters who said that the main reason they were working was in order to pay back their debt. It is unfortunate that people should feel trapped by the debt that they accumulated to attain their degree.  Working just to pay off debt can lead to feelings of anger and resentment.


I  was surprised to read that so many spouses’ jobs were providing the benefits for the family, such as health insurance and retirement plans. For some, the only reason their spouse was working was for the benefits alone since the mom DVM’s benefits were either sub-standard or non-existent.

Is it uncommon for private practices (non-corporate) to offer a full benefits package? If this is the case, then there should be more emphasis for veterinary practices to provide a decent benefits package for their employees. It doesn’t seem right that a health professional, such as a veterinarian, needs to rely on their spouse for good benefits.


Similar to my own situation, there were many that shared that their earnings and their partner’s earnings have changed throughout the years.

This is an important point that new graduates need to understand.

You are not expected to graduate, start working, and stay at the same job for the next 40 years until you retire. Life happens, and your work life will be dynamic as the years go by. Getting married and having children are examples of life events that will have a significant impact on your finances. Other examples include moving, pursuing a different line of work within the profession, leaving the profession altogether, or medical issues. Just like with any job, you have to be willing to be open and flexible if and when things don’t go according to plan.


Veterinary schools graduate 80% women in their classes. Women make up 55% of current practicing veterinarians according to the AVMA. There is no doubt that women will continue to make a larger impact within the profession as their numbers grow. I would venture to say that a good percentage of female veterinarians either have children or plan to have children. Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to understand whether or not female veterinarians can adequately provide for their families?

Even though women breadwinners are becoming the norm, our society is still trying to understand how to adapt to this social shift. According to this article, women and men do not feel completely comfortable about this reality. Enough to the point where they are not being truthful about how much a woman makes if she’s the breadwinner. Not only do the men tend to inflate their earnings if their spouse is the breadwinner, but these very same breadwinning women deflate how much they make.

If this profession is going to have a significant number of breadwinning mothers, then shouldn’t we have resources that better serve this population? The demographic change in this profession has been fast and furious, and we need more data in order to better prepare future veterinarians and serve those that are already out in the workforce.  A profession that supports its own base is a profession that will continue to thrive.


Do you think this profession can comfortably support a female sole income earner? Is there a difference as to whether we’re talking about a man or a woman being a sole income earner? Or do you think this profession is better suited for a dual income household? Comment below!



  1. Chris on September 29, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    I’m not sure gender matters in regards to a veterinarian being able to support a family as the sole working member of the family. Veterinarians as a whole, especially those who did not pursue specialization, struggle with fair compensation (especially in this age of high student loan burden). In this age of corporate take over in the veterinary field there is less opportunity for young veterinarians to become practice owners, probably the most best road to financial success for our profession (aside from seleciive specialization). As a veterinarian working for someone else, it is hard to be financially successful unless you are willing to put in the long hours and an unfavorable schedule (maybe something mothers are less likely to do than fathers?).
    In summary, it is tough for a single income family supported by an associate veterinarian’s salary to be financially ‘well’.
    I am interested to hear of success stories (ie paying off massive student loan burdens, FIRE, etc) from veterinarians who are non-practice owners and who are not supported by a spouse/partner.

    • Financial Wellness DVM on September 30, 2018 at 4:51 pm

      Here’s a link to a vet who paid off her loans as an ER vet without the help of a spouse/partner. It can be done!

  2. xrayvsn on September 29, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    Didn’t realize there was such a preponderance of women in vet school. I think the percentage is creeping up in medical school as well but don’t think near as disproportionate

Leave a Reply