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The job market, economy mixed for private practices

Apr 01, 2009


Easing the burden: "We see a number of people who have lost their jobs," says Dr. Jennifer Hicks of Indianapolis. To accommodate them, her hospital looks for cost-saving ways to help them afford to treat their pets. (Photo: Kevin Foster)
National Report — The number of associate veterinarians expressing interest in veterinary practice ownership declined, again.

Fresh data from DVM Newsmagazine's State of the Profession survey show that only 43 percent of associate veterinarians have aspirations to own a veterinary practice. The results are down from 53 percent posted in 2006.

That's not all. In contrast, 64 percent of the practitioners responding to the survey, say that they don't have plans to hire additional veterinarians in the next two years. Seventy percent of those practitioners believe they can find qualified associates in their area.

If the data signals a trend, it could mean a tighter job market in certain areas of the United States.


Table 1: Most veterinarians intend to stay in private practice during their entire career
Survey data were collected in the midst of a deepening recession that triggered the banking crisis and sharp downturn in the stock market during the end of 2008.

But the outlook for the veterinary profession remains mixed. While the profession was thought to be recession proof, veterinary practices have reported downturns in numbers of cases. But most vets agree, it could be a lot worse.

"We see a number of people now who have lost their jobs," says Dr. Jennifer Hicks, a small-animal veterinarian in Indianapolis. "They want to do these treatments, but we may need to adjust the length of the hospital stay or do the procedures as out-patient in order for them to afford them."

The cost of care


Table 2: Practice ownership aspirations have decreased slightly in 2009
With that in mind, DVM Newsmagazine asked veterinarians to estimate the average dollar amount most clients spend before opting to stop treatment of a sick or injured pet. Examining the stop-treatment point offers insight about the human-animal bond and the economic end point of a client's willingness to continue treatment.

The number: $1,407. That's down from an average of $1,451 in 2006, representing a 3 percent decline over the three-year period. But there are differences, and one contributing factor seems to be the size of the practice. In veterinary practices grossing more than $1.7 million, the stop-treatment point swelled to an average of $2,043, compared to just $1,359 for practices grossing between $250,000 and $499,000.

In contrast, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that most pet owners spend just $356 a year in a $24.5 billion veterinary-services market.