AVMA study confirms excess capacity in the veterinary profession
The veterinary profession is experiencing a problem with excess capacity, and the AVMA expects that problem to persist at least through the next decade if the industry doesn't take action.
According to the 2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study: Modeling Capacity Utilization released by the AVMA, the U.S. currently has excess capacity of 12.5 percent for the veterinary profession as a whole, and 18 percent for the small animal sector alone.
With so many veterinary services not being utilized to their full capacity, there is a definite need for action to ensure that current and future veterinarians have enough work to keep them busy, said Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP, executive director and chief executive officer of AAHA.
"The results of the AVMA's Veterinary Workforce Study confirm what many of us have been thinking for several years: There is not a shortage of veterinarians," Cavanaugh said. "The study results are concerning and should end any arguments relating to a shortage of veterinarians. Those in veterinary medicine need to stop and take a hard look at the causes of the current situation and reassess whether an increasing number of veterinarians in a market where supply far outpaces demand is in the best interests of students, the public, and our profession."
The AVMA projected that the excess capacity problem will likely extend into the next decade. The study used a Baseline Scenario with assumed 2 percent annual growth in number of CVM graduates to estimate that the national supply of veterinarians will likely continue to outpace demand, and the results were disparaging, according to Cavanaugh.
"With an estimated national supply of 100,400 veterinarians by 2025 and a projected national demand of only 88,100, we can expect very challenging times ahead if the profession does not start exploring solutions to this challenge," Cavanaugh said.
Hope for the future
In reporting the study results, the AVMA did acknowledge that there may be ways in which the excess capacity can be mitigated.
"This excess capacity is likely to persist for the foreseeable future even if veterinary schools were to curtail expansion of enrollment. However, this excess capacity could potentially be reduced or eliminated if veterinarians were able to increase demand for veterinary services through outreach programs to educate pet owners or by removing access barriers or reducing the cost to purchase services to spur greater volume of services," the AVMA wrote in the report.
Cavanaugh said he understands the report could increase anxiety about the future for current students, but that AAHA's student program will offer support at every turn because "no graduate who has poured their soul into learning this profession should be left without a job." He also reinforced AAHA's stance that communicating the value of preventive care to clients is a highly effective way to increase visits, thereby reducing some of the excess capacity.
"We continue to believe that educating clients on the importance and value to their pets of regular preventive care is the best way to increase demand for veterinary care. Ensuring that pets receive regular preventive care is not only good for the pet, but increases demand for other services as other conditions will be identified and diagnosed," Cavanaugh said. "AAHA is proud to be a founding member along with AVMA of the Partners for Healthy Pets initiative, which offers veterinary professionals the tools they need to increase regular preventive care visits in their practices. While increasing demand for services alone will not fix our problem, it will help improve the situation for those veterinary professionals and hospitals that are successful in getting pets the preventive care they deserve."
According to Cavanaugh, the AVMA's study is an important assessment of the employment situation facing current and incoming veterinarians, and it makes a compelling case for the profession to take prompt action.
"We applaud AVMA for launching the Economic Strategy Committee and creating the Workforce Advisory Group to oversee the study," Cavanaugh said. "They have provided the profession with a much-needed analysis of where we stand currently, and where we are headed. These results should raise a red flag for all of us - we can only hope that immediate action can be taken to improve the situation."