How to recruit like a pro for top nationwide veterinary talent

by By Caren Carney

12 min read

Recruiting new veterinarians is a challenge. Do the economic factors in your state help or hinder attracting veterinarians from other states? How can you take advantage of conditions in neighboring states to attract more and better candidates? Read on for a state-by-state comparison of veterinary salaries, plus tips on how to recruit better nationwide.

State-by-state veterinary salary comparison 

The veterinary staffing service Holiday Vet recently analyzed the average net salary and the average cost of living to see where veterinarians can get the most for their money. While the original analysis looked at how quickly a veterinarian could pay off student debt, here we’re looking at the marginal earnings, or what’s left after state and federal taxes, as well as factoring in the cost of living

Please note this analysis is on a statewide basis. Additionally, there may be options to reduce taxes on both the state and federal levels. 


Top 5 states with marginal earnings


Avg Salary
State Tax
Net Annual
Cost of Living
Marginal Earnings



















North Carolina














Worst 5 states with marginal earnings


Avg Salary
State Tax
Net Annual
Cost of Living
Marginal Earnings







District of Columbia
























As you can see, marginal earnings can vary greatly from state to state. Also, zero state income tax is not a guarantee that earnings will cover costs, as we see in Alaska. There’s also a difference between urban and rural areas, where living costs in urban areas increase significantly, but that’s a different analysis. 

Why is this important? If you’re finding it hard to get new talent in your practice, targeting other states may be a way to bring in new veterinarians without raising your salary costs. Let’s look at recruiting strategies for a few situations.

Find your competitive advantage 

The first place to start is to look at states that are close to you. You’ll want to compare your data against your neighbors and see where your state excels. That may be on average salary, low tax rates, or marginal earnings. 

Let’s look at Illinois as an example. 

By itself, Illinois comes in the middle of the pack on almost all metrics. When we compare it to surrounding states, we get a better picture of Illinois’s advantages.

Avg Salary
State Tax
Net Annual
Cost of Living
Marginal Earnings































When we look at Illinois among the five states it borders, there are some strong advantages. It has the highest average salary of all six states, for example. And it has higher marginal earnings than all other states except Indiana. For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume that you offer a salary that meets or exceeds the state average. 

In our example, Illinois beats out every state except Indiana for marginal earnings. So an Illinois clinic can focus on recruiting from the other neighboring states on a variety of fronts.

More considerations for Illinois practices based on the analysis include:

  • Chicagoland clinics have limited targets — Chicagoland area animal hospitals can focus on Wisconsin veterinarians, offering a 5% higher salary and a lower cost of living — theoretically. Another option is to attempt to lure in Indiana veterinarians to commute to clinics. That way, they can still leverage the low cost of living in their home state.
  • Indiana veterinarians can commute — Indiana is a tricky case. While the average salary is higher, taxes and cost of living are low enough to outweigh the gross salary. Animal clinics on the east side of the state may be able to recruit veterinarians within a few hours’ drive of the border. That way, an Indiana veterinarian could enjoy the high salary from Illinois but retain the low cost of living in their home state.
  • Illinois offers strong veterinary salaries and lower taxes — Veterinary offices in the southern part of the state can show not only significantly higher salaries but higher marginal earnings as well. Moving from Iowa to Illinois could double an Iowa veterinarian’s marginal earnings, giving them more cash in the bank. The pay increase outpaces the increase in the cost of living, aided by relatively lower state income taxes. 

Practice owners and managers could easily target Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri veterinarians. Both practices and doctors benefit from these arrangements — practices get qualified doctors at a good rate, and doctors get a salary bump.

We took Illinois as an example, but practices in any state could apply similar analysis to your neighboring states. States with negative marginal earnings, like California, may want to focus on lifestyle and personal factors instead of economic ones.

Cross-state considerations 

Recruiting across state borders can have its own complications. From licensing to relocation, hiring an out-of-state vet can mean hidden costs or delayed starting dates.

1. Licensing

Your candidate will have to get a license to practice in your state. Many states have some sort of reciprocity agreement or licensure by endorsement, but the candidate may still have to sit for boards. This is a minor cost, usually under $500, that can be carried either by the candidate or by you. More important than the cost is the time it takes to finalize licensure. This can delay your applicant’s start date by a month or more, so keep that in mind when considering out-of-state candidates. 

2. Relocating 

Your out-of-state applicant may need to relocate. Your advice and assistance will be critical in setting your new team member up for success. Be ready to discuss any financial relocation assistance you’re willing to provide.

Recruiting assistance

If you’re interested in recruiting across state borders but aren’t sure about the process, a veterinary staffing service can help. The service can target the right states, place ads, screen resumes, check candidate credentials, and work through the licensing and relocation process on your behalf. 

Some staffing services work on retainer, meaning that you pay monthly, whether they deliver a candidate or not. With others, you only pay when a candidate has successfully been placed at your practice. These staffing services usually charge a percentage of the candidate’s salary for finding and screening the candidate for you. 

Whether you place ads yourself or engage a staffing service to take on the recruiting process, broadening your geographic scope may be worth the effort. You may get unique candidates that match your practice without raising salaries, and doctors may get a better net salary. 

Dr. Caren Carney

Dr. Caren Carney

Dr. Caren Carney has dedicated her life to the pursuit of improving the lives of animals — first as a technician, then as a researcher, and finally as a veterinarian. Now she helps other vets find their work-life balance through her veterinary staffing service, Holiday Vet. She graduated with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Louisiana State University in 2007 and spent 10 years practicing in Nevada before relocating to Georgia with her husband, son, German Shepherd, and 3 cats. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, exploring new places, and spending time with friends and family.

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