Veterinary Colleges Lag Behind Other Medical Schools in Terms of Recruitment
While some medical fields experienced double-digit applicant growth – and positive gender and racial balance - veterinary medicine has seen flat numbers for the last three years. The industry continues to face gender imbalances – women comprise close to 80 percent of the national student body – and it is one of the least diverse; all factors that prompted the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) to revamp its recruitment process and address misconceptions that might dissuade students from pursuing a career in the field.
“It’s not that we’re deficient” in students, said John Roane, chief operating officer for the AAVMC. “The ultimate goal is to create a diverse pool that will always align with the needs for veterinary expertise.”
The AAVMC’s first step – in a four-phase recruitment assessment process – was launched Oct. 20, 2006, with a web-based survey directed at students in pre-veterinary, health and science programs.
Outdated stereotypes and misconceptions about the profession were dissuading students from selecting the field.
It generated a total of 4,176 responses from students age 20 to 23, who answered 25 questions that gauged their understanding of veterinary medicine and the resources they used to make career decisions.
Recruitment efforts are somewhat new to veterinary professionals since the field was at one time inundated with applicants, Roane said.
There is no national recruitment strategy, and most veterinary colleges do not employ recruitment officers to proactively attract students. Low application figures may have contributed to workforce shortages and a growing need for veterinary experts in the field of public health, professionals said. To rectify these and other problems attributed to low application numbers, an AAVMC steering committee is studying prospective applicants. The six-member committee started its work in August 2006, and includes professionals who contributed to the executive admissions committee.
“We need to expand public awareness of the scope of veterinary medicine so students know what their options are,” Roane said. In an effort to help students recognize veterinary opportunities in government, military, and academia, the AAVMC will work closely with career counselors to disseminate relevant information.
Once student interest is piqued, veterinary colleges may also need to assess how their application materials are written. When Washington State University hired a recruitment officer last year, one of two or three colleges to take that step, they realized that their materials were not age appropriate and were heavily slanted to someone already interested in veterinary medicine, said Gilbert Burns, associate dean for student and academic affairs. “It was a real eye-opener for me,” he added.
Survey results were also surprising. Answers indicated that outdated stereotypes and misconceptions about the profession were dissuading students from selecting the field. A few examples of misconceptions include: veterinary medicine is a lot harder than human medicine; veterinarians only make $20,000; and that veterinary medicine is a dangerous – or life-threatening – career, Roane said.
The association will soon embark on three other phases of the project that were developed with a professional recruitment management firm. Elements include an advisor survey, an assessment of AAVMC recruitment practices, and the creation of a national recruitment plan in the spring or summer of 2007.