National Report — As competition heats up on the coasts, Midwestern veterinary graduates may be the target of recruiting efforts, according to Donald F. Smith, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, Austin O. Hooey Dean Emeritus and professor of surgery at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Smith outlines the current trends for veterinary graduate placement in his new study, "150th Anniversary of Veterinary Education and the Veterinary Profession in North America: Part 4, U.S. Veterinary College in 2011 and the Distribution of their Graduates," published in a recent edition of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education (JVMA) and co-authored by Melissa S. Fenn, BS, a first-year veterinary student at Cornell.
Competition may start to play an increasing role in the relocation decisions of graduating veterinary students, Smith says. He explains that the United States is in the midst of a period of significant growth in the number of graduating veterinarians. There has been a nearly 24 percent increase in the matriculation of veterinary students over the last decade, he notes, with Iowa State, Mississippi State and the University of Missouri seeing the greatest enrollment increases over a period of 10 years.
For that reason, recruiting efforts may begin to focus on the Midwest, where competition among veterinary students is more fierce, he says.
Midwestern states tend to have lower populations too. "At those colleges, a lot of graduates tend to go elsewhere to find jobs in more available areas," Smith says. "Some of the really wonderful practitioners are coming from Midwestern schools, because Midwestern schools are more competitive for jobs post-graduation. So a practice seeking the best candidate may want to go out there to seek a new candidate."
And more students today are preparing for a career that will require a wide variety of skills, he says. One surprising element among today's veterinary student is their willingness to pursue mixed-animal studies, Smith says.
"I'm impressed at the number of our admitted students who express an interest coming in for mixed practice. It's many more than I would have imagined. And I get the sense that it's more than a few years ago," Smith says.
Where are veterinary students going?
Cornell has tracked the post-graduation paths of its veterinary students since its beginnings, Smith says. The school has always had an open-door policy, admitting students from other states and, sometimes, other countries. With that in mind, Smith says the number of Cornell's students who have opted to stay in New York after graduation have dwindled since the 1940s, when about half of its new veterinarians went outside the state for jobs and half stayed in New York. Every five years since then, the numbers drop more. In the late 1970s, about 47 percent stayed to practice in New York, and, today, only about 30 percent stay.
"Cornell has always had a substantial number of its graduates go elsewhere," he says. "We're kind of a net exporter of our graduates."
Penn probably has a similar trend, Smith says, but he can't say for sure. With higher admittance of out-of-state students, Smith says it makes sense that more will leave New York once their education is complete. That's in contrast to states like California and Texas, which primarily admit in-state residents.
"They tend to keep most of the graduates in those programs," Smith says.
He hasn't done any sociological studies on what factors contribute to a student's post-graduation decision to relocate, but it does seem like states that admit mostly in-state students tend to keep more graduates in-state once they enter the profession.
Fenn says her class at Cornell is no exception. With a mixture of students from Western states and New England, she says most of her peers are eyeing a return home after earning their degrees.
"People do seem to want to go back home, in general," she says. "Personally, I have no idea where I want to end up."
She may not specifically return to her home state of Arizona, but Fenn says she can see herself returning to the West Coast.
An interesting experiment in tracking where students end up is in play at Ross University. The Caribbean school seems to be supplying high numbers of veterinarians to pockets of the United States—including two states without veterinary schools, Smith says. Although he doesn't know what the profile of students admitted to Ross is, data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reveals that New York has the largest population of AVMA members who are Ross graduates at 11 percent, Smith says. And that number is growing at double the rate of Cornell graduates in New York. Ross graduates are concentrated even greater in New York City and Long Island. In fact, 30 percent of veterinarians in Staten Island are Ross graduates, he says. Other more populous states with a high proportion of Ross graduates include Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Illinois.
Know the past to understand the future
Moving forward with his series of studies, Smith says he will examine the impact of history on veterinary medicine.
The profession started in a very different place than it is now, and lessons can be learned for the future from the challenges of the past, he says.
"The changes in the profession were more profound than in the medical profession by a huge margin."
Veterinary medicine didn't take hold in the United States until the Civil War, when people realized horses and mules dying of disease and malnutrition needed the same kind of medical care as people. As horses moved into cities in the 1880s, numerous urban, for-profit veterinary colleges opened, often in partnership with medical schools. The land-grant colleges that popped up from 1868 to 1910 focused more on production medicine and food-animal care, he says.
But when the use of horses began to decline, urban veterinary schools closed up. For veterinary education, the Great Depression began in the 1920s, he says.
"Veterinary colleges left the cities and became estranged from medicine," Smith says.
Veterinary schools turned their focus to herd health, production medicine, food safety and zoonotic disease, while medical schools became involved with small-animal care until the 1940s and 50s.
"Medical schools were doing more dog studies and surgeries than veterinary colleges," Smith says. "The best dog surgeons were physicians for many, many years.
"Veterinary medicine started in the cities, then it became a rural profession ... and we've never recovered from that devastating situation," he continues.
Now, veterinary medicine is becoming more proprietary again, and it's having a big impact on the profession's success, he says. Smith says he'll explore these topics more in his next series of articles in JVME, appearing in the spring and summer.