And you thought we don’t have enough vets now . . .

There were 116,000 practicing veterinarians in the US in 2019, almost two thirds of them in companion animal practice. And if pet ownership continues its current rate of growth, the US will need close to 41,000 more veterinarians by 2030.

But unless veterinary schools expand enrollment—substantially and soon—the profession will fall short of that goal by about 15,000.

That’s according to a report released this month from Mars Veterinary Health called Tackling the Veterinary Professional Shortage. The report highlights three studies conducted by James Lloyd, DVM, PhD, a senior consultant at Animal Health Economics and the former dean of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Among the findings:

  • Pet care appointments increased 6.5% in 2021.
  • US pet healthcare spending is predicted to increase 33% by 2030.

That’s going to lead to increased demand for veterinary services. A demand that, given current rates of growth and attrition, the profession won’t be in any position to meet.

Nearly 2,000 baby boomer veterinarians are retiring each year. Meanwhile, the number of US veterinarians is increasing just 2.7% annually—the nation’s veterinary schools graduate around 2,600 new veterinarians each year.

And that retirement figure doesn’t take into account the number of veterinarians who leave the field each year due to burnout or other factors.

Regardless, the upshot is:

  • 18,050 companion animal veterinarians are needed to replace the practitioners expected to retire by 2030.
  • On top of that, an additional 22,909 would be needed to accommodate growth in the pet market.
  • By 2030 the pet population is expected to number nearly 102 million dogs and more than 82 million cats.

(Note that this study was carried out in early 2021, so the numbers don’t reflect the much-touted spike in pet adoptions during the pandemic—a spike that may be more media hype than anything else.)

Lloyd also discusses possible ways of meeting the challenges posed by the looming shortage, which include expanding the veterinary workforce through:

  • Creating additional career pathways.
  • Investment in equity, inclusion & diversity initiatives, including engaging underrepresented groups in veterinary careers.
  • Increased class sizes and additional veterinary schools.

However, Lloyd writes that sending 15,000 new veterinary school graduates into companion animal practice over the next 10 years isn’t practical because veterinary schools would need to increase their number of yearly graduates by more than 50%.

His conclusion: “An enrollment increase of this magnitude would almost certainly not be feasible, even if it? was widely supported as a good idea.”

He does see hope: he suggests that a partial solution to the shortage may lie in a “more complete development of the roles and contributions of veterinary nurses/technicians and a more thorough professional engagement of the entire health care team.”

Other avenues include:

  • Expansion of preventive healthcare programs
  • Increased use of telehealth/telemedicine
  • Innovative practice models

Lloyd has one other recommendation: “The time to start is now.”

Photo credit: © JazzIRT/E+ via Getty Images Plus

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