Leaders in the veterinary profession go toe to toe over supply and demand

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Leaders in the veterinary profession go toe to toe over supply and demand

Debate at Banfield pet health summit sparks discussions over how to steer veterinary profession.
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Aug 21, 2013
Drs. Eleanor Green and Mike Thomas debate supply and demand in the veterinary profession with moderator Kristi Reimer, dvm360 magazine content director, at the Banfield Industry Summit Aug. 13 in Portland, Ore.

An assemblage of CEOs and executive vice presidents, deans, board members of veterinary medical associations and nonprofits, salespeople, consultants, analysts, practitioners, past practitioners and, yes, members of the veterinary media gathered for the Banfield Pet Healthcare Industry Summit in Portland, Ore., recenlty to discuss the very thing everyone seems to be talking about. If the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says the profession is experiencing a 12.5 percent excess capacity in veterinary services, is the problem oversupply of veterinarians or underdemand for veterinary services?

Eleanor Green, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP, dean of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Mike Thomas, DVM, PhD, founder of Noah’s Animal Hospitals in the Indianapolis area, took the stage Aug. 13 to debate the issue with dvm360’s own News Channel Director Kristi Reimer as moderator.

“There is no oversupply of veterinarians—there is underdemand,” Green says. “We’re still called one of the most viable professions. Our focus should be on demand, not supply.” She says the profession has to be creative in order to increase demand and that oversupply should be an opportunity for innovation.

Thomas calls this looking through “rose-colored glasses” and counters that as the number of veterinary colleges increases along with class sizes and debt loads, the problems of the profession will also grow as demand remains flat.

For Green, the key ingredients are service, marketing and value in order to convert potential demand into actual clients. But Thomas questions the effectiveness of those tactics in a still tepid economy. “We need to yield to the wisdom of the market,” Thomas says. That means capping class sizes and putting the brakes on the creation of new veterinary schools.

But Green says academia is not the problem. “Veterinary colleges are fed with demand,” she says. “How do we look at the masses who want our education and say no?” She says the quality of applicant is not waning and the applicant pool increased nationwide in 2013. And she says discouraging students from becoming veterinarians would hurt the profession. “Why can’t we start bragging about it instead of crying about it?” she asks. “There’s a need out there for us. No one ever shrunk themselves to greatness and neither will we.”

The discussions and comments that followed seemed to trend toward Green’s glass-half-full approach to the profession’s future as members of the crowd took to the microphone. Patty Olsen, DVM, PhD, chief veterinary advisor for the American Humane Association, said, “Market the heck out of it [the profession]. We have lots of services to provide. Why shy away from that?”

David Haworth, DVM, PhD, president and CEO of the Morris Animal Foundation, spoke for his table, saying, “We believe there is an inherent, unrealized value in veterinary medicine.”

Others, however, backed Thomas’ concerns surrounding how to effectively market the value of veterinary medicine—“We’ve tried these strategies before and they haven’t worked,” Thomas told the crowd—and questioned whether that would be enough.

John Volk, senior consultant with Brakke Consulting, shared the same concern from those at his table. He said if demand is need plus ability to pay, the profession needs to “find ways to increase demand and add lower costs.”

Those from the AVMA pointed directly to the Partners for Healthy Pets pet owner campaign and its advertisements aimed at getting more clients in for annual exams for their pets. According to CEO Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA, who addressed the conference on its second day, the campaign is designed to change the conversation from a strategic ideal to an actionable outcome for veterinarians.

Banfield Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Jeffrey Klausner, DVM, MS, DACVIM, expressed Banfield’s view that the profession seize potential demand. Clint Lewis, executive vice president and president U.S. Zoetis, echoed the sentiment, saying he couldn’t see how cutting the supply of veterinarians would be good for the profession. “We all need to be doing our part to make sure this industry is vital,” Lewis said when he took the stage to accept the John Payne Industry Leadership Award Tuesday night of the summit. “So goes the industry, so goes Zoetis; so goes the industry, so goes everybody in this room.”