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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.