Poised for growth? Economists predict the veterinary profession will be among the fastest-growing professions by 2020

Poised for growth? Economists predict the veterinary profession will be among the fastest-growing professions by 2020

Insiders caution that economics not there to support predicted growth
Mar 01, 2012

NATIONAL REPORT — Federal economists predict there will be 10,400 more veterinarians in 2020 than there are today.

According to a new occupational outlook report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the veterinary job market is anticipated to grow by nearly 36 percent from 2010 to 2020—almost 3 percent more than the 33 percent growth predicted in the 2008 projections.

While veterinarians today are grappling with declining patient visits and average transaction fees alongside record student debt and a perceived saturation in the job market, some insiders believe the increases are not sustainable.

Today, there are 73,000 veterinarians by BLS' count. By 2020, BLS predicts a total of 83,400 veterinarians. Meanwhile, the American Veterinary Medical Association already estimates the number of veterinarians today at 90,201.

The new figures offer a glimpse of BLS' full occupational outlook report due out later this month. The new numbers place veterinarians among the 30 professions expected to experience the greatest percentage growth from 2010 to 2020. Veterinary technician jobs are expected to blossom by 52 percent over the same period, making that field the fastest-growing of all the healthcare and technical occupations.

Overall, BLS predicts 20.5 million new jobs in the United States by 2020—a 14.3 percent hike. The fastest growth is predicted in healthcare, personal care, community and social-service occupations.

But despite the positive outlook for veterinary occupations in the small animal sector, BLS predicts an annual decline of 0.6 percent in agricultural jobs by 2020. Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers will lose 96,100 jobs—more than any other occupation, as technology and consolidation reduces the number of workers needed in food production. A decline in animal breeding also is expected.

Still, some in the profession question BLS' new figures.

James F. Wilson, DVM, JD, a veterinary consultant who now serves on the VetPartners Career Development Committee and is a national adviser for the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA), told DVM Newsmagazine in May 2011 that the veterinary market has grown in real dollars by about 26 percent since 1991, while the number of veterinarians has grown by 78 percent.

Wilson is not alone in his opinion that the growth in the number of veterinarians is outpacing the market's need for them, but economists still predict enormous growth in the veterinary profession.

There are about 12,000 more veterinarians than there were five years ago (not accounting for retirees), but the unemployment rate among veterinarians is 1.4 percent—almost a half percentage point more than in 2005, according to BLS. The unemployment rate for veterinarians was 0.5 percent or less for the prior three years.

While BLS reports unemployment rates rising among veterinarians, it also predicts greater growth.

But median new-client visits have dropped from 271 in 2001 to 218 in 2009, according to recent figures from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Patients per veterinarian per year dropped to 4,356—from 4,588—during the same period.

And a recent study by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, Brakke Consulting and Bayer Animal Health reports that 56 percent of veterinarians reported a drop in visits from 2009 to 2010.