Too many veterinarians? Jury's still out

Too many veterinarians? Jury's still out

We've been bombarded with terms such as shortages and incentives for years, but we're no closer to solving the supply and demand puzzle plaguing our profession.
Sep 01, 2013

As veterinarians, we do best when we make evidence-based decisions. The same holds true for us as a profession. But supply and demand is one issue the profession is unable to address due to a lack of evidence. Do we have an oversupply of veterinarians or under-demand? Or is it a worst-case combination of the two?

In 2011, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) concluded that " there is not currently a shortage of veterinarians for rural food supply veterinary private practice and that the perception by veterinary schools and the public that there continues to be a shortage of rural practitioners is leading to increased class sizes at veterinary schools and the creation of new veterinary schools."

Dr. Ryan Gates
AABP's conclusions are supported by fundamental economic principles. In a free-market economy, service providers locate where there is adequate incentive. Thus, we infer that a lack of veterinary presence in an area is due to a shortage of incentives—financial, social or otherwise. For decades a different inference had been made: A lack of veterinarians in an area is due to a shortage of veterinarians.

An increasing majority of veterinary students report not having a permanent job at graduation. The most recent in a string of highly anticipated AVMA-commissioned workforce studies seems to confirm what so many veterinary practitioners have been saying for years: "Market indicators suggest excess capacity at the national level to supply veterinary services. Recent trends include falling incomes of veterinarians, falling rates of productivity and increased difficulty for new graduates to find employment."

We submit that this has been an observable trend and that its impact over time is undeniable—the job market is changing dramatically. We reject the notion of overcapacity and underutilization in our profession, however, as this implies the market should meet the supply rather than the other way around.

Without objective, timely, comprehensive and relevant information, pre-vet students cannot evaluate the soundness of a career in veterinary medicine. Without objective, timely, comprehensive and relevant information, current and graduating students cannot construct accurate budgets that enable them to stay afloat as they begin their careers. Without objective, timely, comprehensive and relevant information, those guiding the profession cannot know which direction to steer.

Dr. Eden Myers is a relief veterinarian in Ky. This article appears in full on her website Dr. Ryan Gates is a partner at Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.