Veterinary students are entering a tight job market


Veterinary students are entering a tight job market

Jul 01, 2011

NATIONAL REPORT — Thomas Bauman, a native of California's central valley—home to the state's $63 billion dairy industry—grew up around dairy cows. He worked on farms and progressed to veterinary school, following a food-animal track at the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis). A 2011 UC-Davis grad, Bauman says he never imagined he would have trouble finding a job.

But it took him six months to land his first position, and he says he's not alone.

Although veterinary schools are increasing enrollment to match a predicted veterinarian shortage, especially in large-animal and rural medicine, and offering loan-repayment program to lure students into underserved areas, those on the front-lines of today's veterinary job market are saying there is a disconnect between what industry leaders are saying and what is happening on farms and in clinics across the country.

"For the past six months, the topic of whether or not you have a job yet is what you talk about with your classmates, and it's been a problem for everybody," Bauman says.

It used to be common for new veterinary school graduates to have jobs lined up, and sometimes even have several to choose from, but times are changing.

Some leaders in the profession say the market is not growing fast enough to absorb the number of new DVMs entering it. The veterinary market as a whole has grown in real dollars by about 26 percent since 1991, while the number of DVMs has grown by 78 percent, according to James F. Wilson, DVM, JD, a veterinary consultant who serves on the VetPartners Career Development Committee and as a national adviser for the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA).

Veterinary shortages are not widespread, but more of a distribution problem, some say, yet enrollment is still on the rise and is expected to increase by about 11 percent over the next few years—much higher than the 2 percent annual increase the job market must now absorb.

While the veterinary unemployment rate is still under 2 percent and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9 percent increase in veterinary jobs over the next seven years, additional data to affirm a healthy job market is difficult to pinpoint. Several career counselors at veterinary colleges contacted by DVM Newsmagazine say they post job listings on school websites, but don't track graduate placement. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) also doesn't track the career path of new graduates. The American Veterinary Medical Association is reportedly the only entity with an eye on those figures, according AAVMC, but requests for information by DVM Newsmagazine were unanswered at press time.

Bauman began his job search in January 2011, around the same time as many of his classmates. Numerous cold calls and nine applications later, Bauman says he received just one job offer, and that didn't come until June. He accepted a job at a Lander Vet Clinic, a food-animal exclusive practice serving the San Joaquin Valley in California, but he says many of his classmates are still on the hunt.

"I would estimate that probably only about half of the food-animal people in my class have jobs," he says. "There's a lot who don't have jobs who are very actively looking for them."

Part of his problem, Bauman says, is that many of the practices to which he applied wanted someone with some small-animal experience. Students on a food-animal track at UC-Davis have a hard time fitting that into their schedules, he says. He might have had luck with applications in Illinois and Kansas, had the job at Lander not worked out, but Bauman says he was hesitant to pick up and move himself and his wife across the country, uncertain of what success he might find.

"My perception overall is that there is a demand in some areas, but it's a demand that is kind of counterbalanced by the fact that wages are often low in those areas and it's also kind of in the middle of nowhere," he says. "If you want to be close to family or a major town, that's probably not a good option for you."