Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine (2012)Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources
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The veterinary medical profession faces several challenges in coming years, including maintaining the economic sustainability of veterinary practice and education, building its scholarly foundation, and evolving to meet changing societal needs, this report finds. In recent years, the dominant focus of the profession has shifted from farm animal health to companion animal care, and concerns are growing that this emphasis is directing resources away from veterinary medicine’s other, equally important roles in basic research, public service, food production, and other sectors, resulting in a workforce that may be insufficient to address 21st century priorities for protecting and advancing animal and human health.
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- Although there are no widespread shortages of veterinarians overall, some sectors are struggling to find well-qualified candidates, even when offering high salaries. For example, the industrial sector is facing a shortage of candidates with advanced training in topics such as biochemistry, toxicology, or pathology; and veterinary colleges are in need of research faculty with the grant-writing skills to leverage funding for their programs. Industry veterinary workforce shortages can be addressed by deeper partnerships between academe and industrial employers of veterinarians. Academe should more actively seek industry biomedical research partnerships, student mentoring, and opportunities in the curriculum to expose students to corporate practice.
- Growing demands for animal products are putting stress on agricultural systems and increasing populations of food animals. One strategy to better understand and address health issues that affect humans, animals, and the environment is the concept of One Health, a holistic concept of health that recognizes the complex linkages between humans, wild and domestic animals, and their ecosystems. Veterinary medical organizations and the deans of veterinary colleges should work to increase the visibility, standing, and potential of the profession to address global food security. Establishing a One Health think tank with the goal of advancing food-animal husbandry and welfare policies, ecosystem health standards, and the capacity of the veterinary profession in the developing world would help future generations of veterinarians to collaborate across professions, disciplines and cultures. A part of this body should also consider the necessary competencies required of U.S. veterinary graduates to address the global challenges of food and water safety and security, and the health of wildlife and ecosystems.
- Increasing consumption of animal products such as milk, meat, and eggs has led to the consolidation of food-animal production to fewer but much larger farms—and has also altered demand for veterinary services in the care of livestock, poultry and swine. To increase the economic value of veterinary services to food producers, the education of food-animal practitioners should be reoriented towards herd health and interventions aimed at improving the financial health of the farm operation. Veterinary schools and colleges should work together to achieve this goal by creating centers of emphasis on food-animal medicine.
- More than 50 percent of veterinarians are companion-animal practitioners, but projections about the future growth of companion-animal practice are uncertain. Finding realistic strategies for meeting companion-animal veterinary medical workforce needs will require the collaboration of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, American Animal Hospital Association, and American Veterinary Medical Association. Building such a strategy requires reliable national data on consumer demand for companion-animal care, the economics of private practice, the role of veterinary technicians in extending companion-animal care, and the implications for the profession of growth in accredited and non-accredited veterinary schools both inside and outside the United States.
- Primary veterinary services are still needed in rural areas, but often these communities cannot financially support positions for full-time food animal veterinarians, leaving gaps in animal care and raising concerns about the level of animal disease surveillance in the field. The veterinary profession should formulate new ways of delivering cost-effective services to rural America, using veterinary technicians to extend animal health services to underserved areas.
- Since the economic downturn that began in 2007, veterinary schools have lost public financial support and have had to increase class sizes and transfer of additional tuition costs to students. U.S. veterinary colleges should evaluate and implement alternative options for the delivery of veterinary education and research. To stimulate the collective actions needed to ensure economic sustainability of veterinary colleges, practices, and students, professional veterinary organizations, academe, industry, and government will need to work together with a sense of urgency. A national committee or consortium should be jointly supported to bring together initiatives that focus on the economic sustainability of the profession in all sectors of service, education, and research. As part of a comprehensive strategy to address the economic sustainability of the veterinary profession, the working groups appointed by the consortium should create nationally shared curricula.
- The public sector has unfilled positions for veterinarians who have specialized training in epidemiology, food safety, wildlife and ecosystem health, and public health, but these jobs typically offer salaries much lower than those in the private sector, and cannot attract the top candidates. To meet the need for positions for veterinarians in public practice, the committee urges state and federal governments to re-examine their policies on remuneration, recruitment, and retention of veterinarians.
- Veterinarians in the companion-animal sector are increasingly pursuing specialized training in fields such as surgery, oncology, and orthopedic medicine. The requirements for specialty certification are set by independent Boards and often include faculty advisers and 2-4 years of training, drawing resources away from the central obligation of veterinary schools to educate entry-level Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs).
- Veterinary school curricula have focused on companion animal care, while other subjects such as infectious diseases, public health, and environmental toxicology have received less emphasis. This threatens the profession’s ability to maintain robust research programs and advance basic veterinary knowledge. Addressing these concerns will require that veterinary academe increase its commitment to research, developing future faculty, and encouraging current faculty to work across disciplinary and professional boundaries. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges is well-positioned to take on this challenge.