AVMA on the economic state of the veterinary profession: It’s strong (but don’t get too cocky)

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The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), released their 2019 AVMA Report on Economic State of the Veterinary Profession last month.

Among the key findings:

  • The economic state of the veterinary profession is strong, thanks to the expanding economy.
  • Pet owner demand for veterinary services is strong, with household expenditures at veterinary clinics increasing by 8% from 2012 to $28 billion in 2016.
  • The supply of veterinarians continues to increase as new schools open and the number of graduates continues to increase.

At 69 pages, the full report has a lot of information to wrap your heard around, so NEWStat reached out to AVMA Chief Economist and Veterinary Economics Division Director Matthew Salois, PhD, via email to see if he could help us unpack it.

NEWStat: What do you see as the report’s most significant findings?

Matthew Salois: The economic state of the profession is strong, with salaries continuing to rise and unemployment at record-level lows. Total revenue for veterinary services sees ongoing expansion as pet ownership continues to rise. That said, with inevitable market downturn in the future, the time is now for practices and companies/organizations to start preparing and “weatherproofing” for the next recession.

NEWStat: Did anything come up in your research that surprised you?

MS: There’s so much to unpack in this report, but a few highlights for me include:

  • The great variation in education costs and student debt levels across the different schools is an interesting data trend. It shows that there are lots of different ways veterinary schools can deliver veterinary education and help support ways to minimize student debt. This is a key area for further exploration, as we need to better understand how some schools are being more successful than others.
  • Trends around increasing burnout and lower overall wellbeing of veterinarians is a concern. The finding that practice owners actually have statistically significantly higher compassion satisfaction and lower burnout than associates is quite interesting. This demonstrates that practice ownership doesn’t just have an economic gain, but also a wellbeing gain. In a profession that is seeing a decline in the number of practice owners, this is a huge point.
  • The finding that the vast majority of practices are running below optimal efficiency represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the economic sustainability of the practice. There is a lot we can learn from the most efficient practices to strength our profession. For one, the critical role of the veterinary technician and how they can heighten operational efficiency and contribute tremendous value shows that practices can better leverage their talent.

NEWStat: What should be the major takeaway for veterinary professionals?

MS: [That] the veterinary profession is rapidly transforming.

  • The demographics of veterinarians are shifting rapidly with respect to gender and age, with an unprecedented number of retirements around the corner.
  • The influx and growth of large/corporate practices is changing the nature of what it means to be competitive and economically thrive in this industry.
  • The rapid onset of new technologies and innovations like virtual care, connected care (such as pet wearables), and the move by consumers and pet owners for more value and convenience at a lower price will continue to take hold.

The key takeaway is that change is not coming—it’s already here. And successful practices, companies, and organizations will need to demonstrate leadership agility and adapt to these changes in addition to also making changes in how they make decisions, manage their operations, and deliver value to clients and customers.

Photo credit: iStock/DrRave