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Thursday, October 18, 2012

ANOTHER Vet School???? While Pet Numbers Decline

Back in March of this year I expressed concern about the fact that Arizona was planning on opening a new veterinary college despite evidence that we don't have a shortage of vets in this country and despite increasing problems with new graduates finding well-paying jobs.  Well, it looks like Arizona isn't the only one.

In the latest issue of DVM Newsmagazine there is an article (page 30) that talks about a new vet school being proposed in Buffalo, NY.  This one would be in addition to the one planned in Arizona.  A representative for the real estate development company behind the proposal is quoted as saying the following as a rationale for needing a new vet school.

"Over 50 percent of America's pets receive no regular veterinary care, so there continues to be a need for veterinarians.  As baby boomer veterinarians retire, this need will only grow."

Sadly, this statement shows that the people involved in planning the new school understand nothing about the realities of the veterinary profession in today's society and economy.  Yes, half (or more if you look just at cats) of American pets don't receive good, regular veterinary care.  However, that is absolutely not due to a shortage of opportunities or vets.  In fact, all recent data shows that we're quickly trending to a surplus of vets, causing a rise in veterinary unemployment and a relative decrease in average salaries (compared to inflation and debt load).  The reason that many pets don't see vets is because the owners have chosen not to take them in, probably in large part due to current national and world economies.

I find it ironic and very revealing that in the same issue a cover story has the bold headline "U.S. pet ownership on the decline".  According to data to be released this fall we can see the following troubling data:
     *  The percentage of pet-owning households in the US declined by 2.4% over the last five years.
     *  Dog owning households decreased by 1.9%
     *  Cat owning households decreased by 6.2%
     *  The number of pet dogs decreased by 3% from 2006 to 2011, going from 72.1 million to 69.9 million
     *  Cats decreased by 9.4%, from 81.7 million to 74.4 million

So let me do a quick analysis of the numbers we're looking at.  The overall numbers of pets in the US are declining.  Debt load to get a veterinary education is reaching a critical level where it may become nearly impossible to survive on current salaries due to crushing money burdens.  We are enrolling and graduating more vets per year than ever before as colleges increase class size to overcome budget cuts.  All data points towards us having a surplus of small animal vets with the problem likely worsening over time.  And with all of this information we are looking at adding two new veterinary schools, adding a couple hundred vets annually to a profession that is already struggling? 

Can someone please tell me the wisdom in these plans and why someone isn't being realistic about the future of the profession?

It makes me very glad that I graduated 15 years ago and have a good, steady job.  I don't want to be pessimistic, but I really feel sorry for people wanting to enter the field over the next decade and would not easily recommend doing so. 

9 comments:

  1. Very true, sadly I am just entering this profession! But I will prevail!

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  2. I work in designing animal shelters and admit I find myself tempted to enter into veterinary medicine.

    Undoubtedly, as renter, I think you can tie the decline in companion animals as pets to the decline into the housing market. As homes foreclosed, many people abandoned there pets in addition to their homes. Shelters are over-run and are require expansions.

    Someone needs to pass a law that does not allow landlords and property owners to discriminate against renters with pets.

    I know I would have a dog if my property company allowed it.

    Trust, Vets are not the only people that are over-educated and underemployed or underpaid.

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  3. @Lauren - it's true vets are not the only people that are over-educated and underemployed/underpaid, as you say.

    However, they ARE the only profession that you practically have to take out 200k-300k in loans just to make it through school. With medical school you at least have the guarantee of a decent salary, but veterinary school not so much. So there is a difference.

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  4. Dr. Bern-- out of curiosity (I'm a pre-veterinary student now looking to apply within the next few years) how is the job projection for other specialties (such as large animal)? I've heard a lot about small animal veterinarians but not so much about others.

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  5. There is a growing shortage of large animal vets, so this may be an area to enter. The financial prospects aren't any better, but job security is.

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  6. It's ridiculous. Right now my job situation is ok but I wonder what the future holds for all of us? The worse the situation gets, the more I wish I'd done something else, or pursued a residency. Something I think maybe I still should, before I get any older. But I think I'll just take my chances.

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  7. Chris, I am a large animal veterinarian. There's no shortage of large animal veterinarians, especially equine veterinarians. There are few jobs, unless the new grad wants to work solo and unsupported in an undesirable location covering a large territory in order to make ends meet. I know of recent grads who completed prestigious residencies who have taken positions in corporate small animal because they can't find jobs. I know of recent grads being paid <$25K, in several states, and I am not kidding.

    Just as in small animal, there is a shortage of clients willing to pay large animal veterinarians for their services. Clients and farmers don't want to hire and pay us, and we can't make them.

    Over ten years in this field, and there's no way I'd do it over again. Too much debt, too many injuries, and I'm still paid little more than a physician in residency. It's not worth it.

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  8. What about vet techs? I was considering going to a local technical college to be a vet tech - what are the jobs prospects there?

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  9. There are journals for veterinary technicians and I'm sure they have this data, but I don't subscribe to those so I'm not entirely certain. In my personal experience I think the technician market is fairly stable, with some potentially good signs. As veterinary medicine has to adapt to current market pressures, we may end up modeling the human side of medicine and rely more on techs than we have in the past.

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