A big question looming over the veterinary profession is if colleges are preparing students to meet society’s changing needs. And if needs are changing, how can academic veterinary medicine respond?
To answer those questions, the Association of American Veterinary Medicine Colleges (AAVMC) requested the help of the National Academy of Sciences in conducting a study on “Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine.” The study sought to assess not only current workforce estimates, but also the unmet needs that the profession must address in order to remain relevant to society.
The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies released its findings in May. The report concludes that there are sectors of unmet need for veterinarians, but researchers found little evidence of widespread workforce shortages at the current time. The study did find an imbalance in the distribution of veterinarians and expressed concern about the state of the veterinary workforce in critical areas of veterinary medicine, such as the public sector.
In addition to assessing the current state of the veterinary medical workforce, the study makes projections on future needs across all sectors and recommendations for meeting those needs. For example, the report identified a need for veterinarians to become involved in food and water security and safety. The committee found troubling trends in the public sector veterinary workforce. Longstanding job vacancies, a looming wave of retirements, declining programmatic support for animal research, and reports of too few positions in key agencies raise questions about the ability of the government to achieve its missions to ensure food safety and prevent and respond to infectious diseases of animals and humans.
In order to prepare graduates who can meet society’s evolving need for veterinary expertise, schools and colleges of veterinary medicine have already begun implementing many of the study’s suggestions, which align with recommendations from the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium’s (NAVMEC) “Roadmap for Veterinary Medical Education in the 21st Century: Responsive, Collaborative, Flexible,” a report specific to academic veterinary medicine that the AAVMC spearheaded and released in 2011. The NAVMEC report also called for resource sharing, greater use of technology, the development of centers of emphasis or excellence, a focus on One Health, and the development of graduates with a broader range of skills and competencies. The NRC report warned that veterinary medical education in its current form is unsustainable due to a decade-long decline in funding for education and research and increasing student debt load relative to income.
The AAVMC, the American Veterinary Medical Association, Bayer Animal Health, the American Animal Hospital Association, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund sponsored the study. The report is available for download at: nap.edu.