Professional veterinary associations should step up

Professional veterinary associations should step up

The veterinary industry is headed in a bad direction with higher debt loads, more seats in classes and less job prospects. We need to encourage our associations to do something about it.
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Aug 19, 2013

There always seem to be two sides to every story, and the question of whether veterinary medicine is suffering a glut of practitioners is one such issue. This month, two veterinary practice consultant colleagues—Mark Opperman, CVPM, and Sheila Grosdidier, RVT, debate the question of whether veterinary medicine is a glass half-full or half-empty. Who do you agree with? Tell us in the comments here.

A few months ago, in covering the American Veterinary Medical Associations’s new workforce study, AAHA Trends magazine wrote, "The veterinary profession is experiencing a problem with excess capacity, and the AVMA expects that problem will persist at least through the next decade if the industry doesn't take action."

I, for one, don't get it. Also according to the AVMA, the starting salary for graduating veterinarians is down this year while, at the same time, student debt has increased. It took a New York Times article to bring this information to the forefront, but still, no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Because I teach at several veterinary schools every year, I have the opportunity to talk to future veterinarians, and they are definitely concerned and frustrated by the situation. No longer are they assured of a job upon graduation and, for many, all they are guaranteed is that they will have significant debt when they graduate. But that's not where the problem ends. Did you know that most veterinary schools are increasing the number of "seats" in their classes and that two new veterinary schools are scheduled to open in 2014 ?

So while we increase class sizes and add schools, today’s graduates aren’t assured of finding jobs when they graduate. If they do find a job, they’ll probably be paid less than those who graduated before them. And, oh wait, their debt load will also be much higher.

So, what do we do? I say the state and national associations should be actively involved in this problem and helping to resolve it. When the dental profession faced a similar problem years ago, I’d always applauded the American Dental Association’s decision to step in and regulate the number of dental schools. Turns out that’s not what happened.

According to an article published on Veterinary Information Network, “The truth is that dental schools, like all colleges and universities, operate independently from the professions for which they train. The decisions to close schools were made individually by their parent institutions. ‘There was no guiding hand behind this at all,’ says Richard Valachovic, president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association. ‘Things just happened.’”

So, to me, this is a big problem and I don’t see anyone doing anything about it. Maybe the “market” will take care of itself. But if we look to the dental profession, we may get a glimpse of our future. Eric Solomon had a close-up view of dental school closures. At the time, he served as assistant director for application services and resource studies at the American Dental Education Association. “I was the one who had to tell everybody what was happening with their applicant pool,” Solomon told VIN. “The applicant pool was falling off the table.”

Solomon believes that only a dropoff in student demand compels a decision as momentous as closing a school. “As long as you have the demand for the profession, it will be hard for the profession to say, ‘We need to cut back,’” he told VIN.

That’s sad. To my thinking, professional associations and institutions have a vested interest in reducing school enrollment and should be proactive in controlling their numbers. I think the profession should encourage our state and local associations to take a more active role in controlling the number of “seats” being made available and the number of schools opening up. Is it fair to new graduates that they are leaving school unsure if they will have a job, with a substantial debt load and an uncertain future?

The “Management Matters” blog features the writing of veterinary practice management consultants Mark Opperman, Sheila Grosdidier and Monica Dixon Perry. Come back every month for their unique take on current and future trends in veterinary practice as well as tried-and-true tips for improving patient care, team member morale and practice revenue.

Check out Sheila Grosdidier's opinion on where the industry is headed here.

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