There's no shortage of veterinarians in most areas of rural practice, a veterinary committee reports
In fact, "Summary Opinion of the AABP's Ad Hoc Committee on Rural Veterinary Practice" runs contrary to recent enrollment increases by U.S. veterinary schools, in part, to satisfy the perceived need for more veterinarians to practice in rural areas.
Dr. Gatz Riddell, executive vice president of the AABP, tells DVM Newsmagazine, understanding the entire issue is a complicated problem that needs to be addressed. However, the perceived need for more vets in rural areas certainly should not be used to justify enrollment increases. AABP's Ad Hoc Committee produced the opinion under the leadership of AABP's past president and committee chair Drs. Roger Saltman and this year's AABP President Christine Navarre out of concern over a tight job market, increasing consolidation within agriculture and other factors.
While the committee acknowledges there are pockets within rural America that are under served by veterinarians, many of these areas simply cannot sustain a viable large-animal veterinary business. "It's really no different for other health professions including physicians and dentists. It is a rural economy issue," explains Navarre.
"The committee is extremely concerned that the perception by veterinary schools and the public that there continues to be a shortage of rural practitioners is leading to increased class sizes at veterinary schools and the creation of new veterinary schools. Continuing to increase the number of veterinarians interested in serving rural areas will not solve this problem," the committee says. "In fact, creating an 'over supply' of food supply veterinarians will lead to widespread unemployment or underemployment of food-supply private practitioners and will have a significant detrimental effect on salaries for all veterinarians."
Navarre explains, "The economy has changed. Agriculture is changing. And I think it has resulted in far more drastic change in business conditions than anyone really expected. All of a sudden we were hearing there weren't any jobs (for some veterinarians). Dairy prices took a nose dive, agriculture continues to consolidate. Some jobs that had been advertised were pulled back because people decided not to hire until things got better."
Riddell, professor emeritus with Auburn University's veterinary college, says that veterinary schools will likely increase class size by selecting for out-of-state students. While it might help prop up tight veterinary school finances (because out-of-state tuition is typically much higher), it also ensures higher debt load for many of these veterinary students. "If there isn't a successfully consistent and robust rural veterinary practice model to make it work, then it will create more stress on veterinary students interested in entering rural practice," Riddell explains.
AABP's work in this area is just beginning, Navarre says. In fact, AABP set up three new subcommittees to:
* examine and identify sustainable and/or alternative rural community practice models
* develop tools to help students and practitioners hone their business skills
*examine the role of technicians and other veterinary paraprofessionals.
The goal, Riddell adds, is to make rural practice economically viable.
"We do not want to flood the rural practice market," Navarre says. "It will have an impact on the entire veterinary job market. If graduates can't find jobs in those areas, they are going to be competing with other students. And, we need to ask ourselves, do we really need to increase the overall number of veterinarians in general -- not just rural practitioners?"