No veterinary workforce shortage, study finds - DVM
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No veterinary workforce shortage, study finds
But impending gaps are identified in research, public health, industry; panel calls veterinary profession's current direction 'unsustainable.'


DVM360 MAGAZINE


However, that's a highly qualified "no," as the rest of the report goes on to explain in 298 pages' worth of analysis and detail. Here are the report's key findings and recommendations:

Although there is no overall shortage of veterinarians, there are unfilled positions in some sectors of veterinary medicine. These sectors inclue industry and scientific research, which require advanced training, and the public sector (epidemiology, food safety, wildlife and ecosystem health and public health), where salaries are lower than average and recruitment efforts fail to reach veterinarians who might be looking for jobs. The report recommends more extensive partnerships between veterinary schools and animal health corporations and also encourages state and local governments to reexamine how they recruit and pay veterinarians.

The report also implies that veterinary schools—which are increasing their class sizes as well as growing in number—focus too heavily on companion animal medicine. "The demand for a veterinary education among U.S. citizens remains high, yet the economic reality regarding student educational costs in relation to modest practice incomes is worrisome," the report states. "Companion animal medicine has come to dominate the curriculum and resources of veterinary schools, sometimes to the detriment of other fields of veterinary medicine." The report urges organizations such as the AVMA, AAHA and AAVMC to address this imbalance accordingly.

The decline in veterinary school funding has jeopardized the profession's ability to meet society's needs. Specifically, the report indicates, state budget cuts have hurt scientific research efforts. "Veterinary medicine has made immense contributions to human well-being but is losing the breadth of its intellectual base," the report reads. "The trend jeopardizes the vigor of veterinary medicine, threatens the profession's future and urgently requires a change in direction."

In addition to recommitting to scientific investigation and recruiting students and faculty to research careers, veterinary schools need to seek alternative sources of funding, the report states—for example, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "The total NIH funding of the nation's 28 veterinary schools and colleges in 2010 was about $280 million—less than the NIH funding for any one of the nation's top medical schools." This despite ample opportunity for cross-disciplinary biomedical investigation that has direct implications for human health, such as cancer research.

The cost of veterinary education is at a "crisis point." With the ratio of student debt to starting salaries at greater than 2 to 1, people will eventually wake up to the grim reality of this paltry return on investment, and the quality of veterinary school applicants will decline, the report predicts. Veterinary schools will need to seek other sources of funding besides tuition increases, make a better case for the value of veterinary services to state and federal governments (which, again, requires a recommitment to scientific research that's in the public interest) and examine alternative teaching methods that reduce costs (such as webinars and partnering with private specialty practices instead of maintaining teaching hospitals).

One potential piece of the solution suggested by the report is to encourage more students to apply for admission to veterinary school after two years of undergraduate training, similar to how many pharmacy schools and overseas veterinary schools operate. Earlier admission would decrease the student debt load and help graduates begin earning income earlier. "In Britain we go straight from high school to vet school," says committee chairman Kelly. "I've never understood why in North America students need an additional four years."

The veterinary profession is losing its presence in food animal production and care. Food animal medicine has failed to adapt to the changes in the livestock and poultry industries, the report asserts. Rather than providing traditional veterinary care focused on individual animals, food animal veterinarians need to be trained to manage herd health and increase producers' productivity.

"Large producers who dominate the livestock industries seek veterinarians who are ... committed to food animal practice, who can understand production systems, can read farm records and can use them to make decisions aimed at increasing herd health, productivity and the overall profitability of the farming operation," the report says. "It is these services producers seek and for which they are willing to pay."


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Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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