The National Academy of Sciences released a report on the ‘Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine’ earlier this year. The committee found little evidence of widespread workforce shortages at the present time, however, they did find a number of advanced training shortages. The positions offered in certain sectors provided salaries that were too low paying to remunerate the cost of education; this included positions in One Health, epidemiology, environmental science and food security. Some of these positions remain unfilled and could as a result be lost to veterinary medicine graduates and be filled by graduates from other professions. As veterinary courses become more applied there is a decreased emphasis in these areas.
The positions offered in certain sectors provided salaries that were too low paying to remunerate the cost of education
The report also identified that the veterinary profession may be losing its presence in food-animal production and care. In the USA there has been a fall of 14% between 1995 and 2007 in the number of food animal practitioners. The number of mixed animal practitioners has been increasing as some members of the profession are diversifying. It can be argued that these individuals are less able to keep up with the most recent developments in their respective fields. The current food animal practitioner model may be unsustainable. It is advised that there is a shift to a herd health approach in order to have a more significant impact on overall farm operations. In some rural parts of the USA there has been a shift to lower paid workers for food animals, who won’t recognise uncommon diseases, but it has been recognised that in some instances it may be useful to extend the expertise of veterinary technicians. This could fill jobs that would be economically unsustainable if carried out by a veterinarian. The food animal workforce is ageing and an estimated 57% of food animal predominant vets are over 50 years of age.
It is currently estimated that by 2025 there will be a shortage of around 15 thousand veterinarians. The Veterinary Public Health Workforce Act was meant to address some of these problems by increasing the capacity of Americas Veterinary colleges. As seen with farm animal practitioners there is a large proportion of university faculty that are at retirement age. It can be difficult to find candidates with the adequate training and knowledge to fill these positions. Without these positions to write grants, to mentor and recruit new candidates there will be a decline in veterinary expertise. There is also a strain to meet accreditation standards which results in an increase in tuition cost and in some instances have resulted programs being cut. Research funding has also been in decline which will affect the veterinary professions ability to maintain standards. A decreased standard of veterinary education will result in a decreased standard of applicants.
Veterinary graduates are remaining in debt for much longer due to the current cost of education and low starting salaries.
Veterinary graduates are remaining in debt for much longer due to the current cost of education and low starting salaries. The return on this investment is low compared to other health occupations. The return for the financial investment required for veterinary education in the USA is unsustainable and major changes need to be instigated.
National Academy of Sciences. Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine. [online]. Available: http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Workforce-Needs-Veterinary-Medicine/13413 [25 December 2012]