No veterinary workforce shortage, study finds


No veterinary workforce shortage, study finds

But impending gaps are identified in research, public health, industry; panel calls veterinary profession's current direction 'unsustainable.'
Jul 01, 2012

Four years after originally promised, a panel convened under the auspices of the National Academies of Science has released its report on the current and future workforce needs of the veterinary profession. Its conclusion? While there's no shortage of veterinarians in the profession now, there is a significant imbalance in the types of veterinary medicine being practiced. What's more, if these imbalances aren't corrected, the profession is headed for economic disaster.

"The committee is concerned that an unsustainable economic future is confronting the profession and calls for veterinary organizations, academe, industry, government and nongovernment organizations to proceed strategically and with urgency," the study committee says in the report.

The study was instigated after legislation introduced in Congress in 2005, the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act, called for an increase in the number of veterinarians. The bill was predicated on the assumption that there would be a shortfall of 15,000 to 20,000 veterinarians by 2024 and that, as a result, the nation was ill-equipped to address concerns related to bioterrorism, zoonotic disease and other public health and safety issues.

The bill did not pass, but in 2007, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and other organizations commissioned the National Research Council, part of the National Academies of Science, to investigate these assumptions in more detail.

Table 1
Originally the investigation was supposed to take 18 months. But, says Alan Kelly, BSc, BVSc, PhD, chairman of the committee and dean emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, complications arising from the economic recession, along with a lack of reliable data on segments of the veterinary profession—compounded by a rigorous review process involving all 13 committee members—stretched out the process into a more-than-five-year undertaking.

In the meantime, the question has continued to plague the profession: Is there truly a shortage of veterinarians in the United States? Some groups say yes, including U.S. veterinary schools, which have increased their enrollment steadily over the past several years. In addition, new veterinary schools have been created in the United States and foreign veterinary schools have been accredited by the AVMA.

Other groups say no, there is no shortage, including the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP). The AABP issued a report in 2011 stating that parts of rural America are underserved by veterinarians not because of a shortage of willing practitioners but because it simply isn't possible for large animal veterinarians to make a viable living in these areas.

And the report from the group tasked with providing a definitive answer and laying the debate to rest kept getting delayed, and delayed—and delayed again.

Finally, on May 30, the committee released its report, titled "Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine." In answer to the question "Is there a shortage of veterinarians?" the report gives a clear answer: no.

"True personnel shortages are indicated when salaries rise sharply in an attempt to attract qualified candidates," the report says. "That is not occurring in any sector of veterinary medicine, except industry," which requires a PhD or other highly specialized training.