DVM Newsmakers' Summit: Supply in demand? - DVM
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DVM Newsmakers' Summit: Supply in demand?
Veterinarian shortage looms as demands change, experts say

DVM360 MAGAZINE



Dr. Joan Hendricks
Dr. Hendricks: I really think in a lot of ways some of this is linked to the animal welfare discussion and when you look at animals that serve society. I think that even if we start with our incoming veterinary classes who are white, suburban and largely female and have not grown up in a situation where they saw animals working for a living, they are intensely interested. If we step up and have animal welfare science as an important part of the training, I think that will help in some ways. However, it is absolutely true that the people we have in veterinary school have come in with a certain idea of what veterinary medicine is. I think we need to start with pre-vet programs. We have a funny situation in Pennsylvania in that the veterinary school is in the southeast corner of the state inside a private university. The state's agricultural school is at Penn State. We have a coalition now working with Penn State to recruit students into their training programs so that those people come to our school thinking about business, food production and public service. Hopefully, we'll get them at that end. And even more importantly, we need to start educating at the pre-veterinary level and to middle-school and high-school students about veterinary opportunities. I talked with the leaders of a couple of really interesting schools in Philadelphia. One of the schools is an agricultural high school, and its students actually take two subways and a bus to get to this farm within the city limits. Some of the students work at meat science, and they have contests in butchering. These are young kids who have decided that this is the path they want to take. Some want to be veterinarians and a lot of them come in thinking about small animal, yet exit thinking about farm animal. I just want to bottle that and figure out how the transformation occurs. We're beginning to partner with them.

The other school has very high-performing students. The head of the school said that its students don't want to be veterinarians, they all want to be MDs and they want to do biomedical research. I said they wanted to be veterinarians, they just don't know it yet. He said his students basically know whatever professions are on TV, so they all come in wanting to be forensic scientists. At dinner last night, we decided that we needed a CSI veterinarian to really make this work.

Finally, clearly finances of practice in the public sector are enormously important. Tons of students with all the goodwill in the world and even with an intense interest either in public health or food animal just plain can't afford it, and the lucrative part of practice relatively is treating individual animals. I'm veterinary Barbie myself, and I love it and I value the students who want to take care of cats and dogs. We really have to broaden everyone's sense of what they can do, and make it possible for them to do it.


Dr. Gary I. Block
Dr. Block: I couldn't agree more with everyone's comments, and I guess the million-dollar question for me is at what point can we nab these inspiring veterinarians to make a difference? I don't think it will happen once you're in veterinary school, with the inability to formally track into one of these public practice professions. It's really hard to get students interested at that point.

Dr. Beaver: Currently in the United States we have approximately 86,000 veterinarians. It means that any of the major football stadiums could be totally filled with veterinarians and still have space left over. It's a scary thought, when you consider that approximately 100,000 new attorneys are graduating every year. We're really talking about two different subjects. In one sense, we're talking about how do we get our current population of new graduates interested in areas that are slightly non-traditional, because those are also areas where opportunities exist.


Dr. Bonnie Beaver
There are a number of things that schools are doing to try to make those opportunities known to students. But a bigger issue, which I think Dr. King really addressed in some ways, is how do we increase the numbers of veterinarians in the United States if we have a shortage? We need to fill the current needs and fill the new opportunities as they develop. In part, foreign graduates will certainly help fill that role.

Physically, schools can only increase a certain size unless there is major new funding from the federal government, and I guess my question back to Dr. King would be: In 1998, we had the KPMG study that said we actually have a surplus of veterinarians, so how did we miss it? How did we not identify that this need was really going to be there and start at that time looking for ways to increase numbers?


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