AVMA's new veterinary employment statistics show reasons for optimism

The AVMA released new data showing reason for optimism when it comes to veterinary employment during its 2014 Veterinary Economic Summit held Oct. 28, 2014. 

The new information comes as a result of the AVMA's effort in 2014 to build upon its 2013 workforce study by collecting even more previously uncaptured data regarding veterinary employment, said Michael Dicks, Ph.D., AVMA director of veterinary economics, in a news release. During 2014, the AVMA conducted four surveys:

  • A survey of senior veterinary school students
  • A biennial economic survey
  • An employment survey
  • A capacity utilization survey

The AVMA shared several positive findings from those surveys with its veterinary audience during the Economic Summit, including:

  • Total excess capacity has dropped overall since 2012 and projects to remain under 10 percent for the foreseeable future.
  • The percent of veterinary practices working at full capacity is up from 35 percent in 2012 to 2014.
  • Veterinary unemployment is at 3.4 percent, which is lower than the U.S. national rate of 6.1 percent and lower than even historically low unemployment levels.
  • Job growth in the veterinary sector is poised to continue upward through 2025, with an accompanying drop in excess capacity.

But the information collected by the AVMA also underscores several known challenges for the veterinary profession that continue to be of concern for the foreseeable future, said Dicks. These include the debt-to-income ratio for veterinary school graduates, which is suffering as starting salaries for new veterinarians stay flat while education costs increase.

The research and surveys also show that the veterinary profession is vulnerable to downturns in the economy.

"We've learned that the veterinary profession and the demand for veterinary services are heavily influenced by the economy, as we took a large hit during the recent recession," Dicks said. "We learned that for every $1,000 drop in personal disposable income, veterinarians see a nearly $1,700 drop in their practice income. Veterinary care spending, particularly for pets, is discretionary spending, and the recent recession provided added evidence of that."

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Dicks said the AVMA's work over the past two years has yielded valuable insights, but that the real work is only just beginning.

"We emphasized last year when the 2013 workforce study was released that the report and its findings are a starting point and not the end of our efforts to ensure adequate access to veterinary services and the economic viability of the veterinary medical profession," he said. "We continue to subscribe to that philosophy today. We need even more data and we are asking our colleagues across the veterinary profession to help us gather and analyze information for the benefit of the profession across all disciplines."

The AVMA reported that it will follow up on its newly released findings with a final report in January 2015, representing the first installment of an ongoing AVMA series of articles exploring veterinary economics.