AVMA to Host Groundbreaking Workforce Summit

Forty-five prominent leaders in the veterinary profession will gather next month at AVMA headquarters to take part in the 2013 AVMA Veterinary Workforce Summit. An outgrowth of the recently released AVMA 2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study, this first-ever summit will bring together representatives from across the veterinary spectrum in an effort to develop and standardize a process of data collection and analysis that will provide the veterinary services industry with the best, unbiased information needed to increase industry performance.

The workforce study estimated that there is a 12.5 percent excess capacity in veterinary services. While excess capacity is a normal state in many professions, we need to determine what it means in relation to the veterinary profession. At this point, we don’t know why excess capacity exists. Many people have various theories and hypotheses, but no analytic evidence exists to prove or disprove any of them.

That’s why this workforce summit and what comes out of it are so important. We need that analytic evidence to help us answer our questions about excess capacity and to help us get a clearer picture of the current and future state of veterinary economics.

So where are we going to start? On what areas are we going to focus? Here’s a sampling of what we need:

  • An accurate accounting of the number of current veterinarians.
  • An accurate count of the number of veterinarians entering and exiting the profession.
  • Better financial data from clinical practices, especially when it comes to variable and fixed costs.
  • Better, more accurate estimates on the number of animal owners in the U.S. and the number of animals they own.

By answering these questions and many more, we hope to chart a new course that will allow us to accurately gauge what’s happening economically in veterinary medicine. We believe that having more reliable data will help us determine where excess capacity exists, why it exists and what effect it has on the way veterinarians do business. The more information we have, the better we can answer questions and develop strategies that will strengthen and enhance the profession we all care so much about.

What are your thoughts? Click on the “Leave a Reply” button above to share your insight.

20 thoughts on “AVMA to Host Groundbreaking Workforce Summit

  1. I don’t think that anyone would disagree that having accurate, unbiased data is important if one plans to use said data to take some sort of corrective action. Otherwise, it is just a chance to put on our suits and act important. Without action, this will be a disappointing waste of time.

    I doubt that I am alone in having concerns about what will come of this. It is impossible to know for sure what, if anything, will come of this, but we do have past behavior as an indicator of what to expect. Take a look at the past studies on workforce issues and tell me if the AVMA or the universities did anything.

    If it is truly unbiased data and its interpretation that we are after, I would suggest that we refuse any present or past member of the executive board or member of AAVMC from participating. There are far too many trust and credibility issues with the AVMA (think foreign accreditation task force report) and the AAVMC likely has a conflict of interist. If you think about it, what two veterinary “leadership” groups have more culpability with regards to the work force imbalance, whether directly or indirectly, than these two? Better yet, how about tapping people and organizations from outside our instutions to handle this.

    “At this point, we don’t know why excess capacity exists”. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am nowhere near the smartest guy out there, but I think that maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with an imbalance of supply and demand. We have problems with both of those variables- increasing supply and decreasing demand. That is bad, bad, bad. Just as bad is the fact that past workforce studies predicted this scenario and we did nothing to address this. So, we basically pissed away that opportunity to proactively DO SOMETHING that would help.

    “By answering these questions” …..

    Again, I think data collection and interpretation is a good thing if performed by competent and unbiased groups or individuals, but lets keep a pulse on common sense here. In today’s ecomonic climate (and yesterday’s as well, based on prior information), we simply have too many veterinarians in private practice. You can call it what you want ; say that the number of veterinarians is perfect but the demand is the issue, or state that if we could just reduce our prices enough to get to that 50% of pet owners that do not and have never utilized our services all would right itself, the end result is that there are simply too many veterinarians for what the current and foreseeable market will bear or support financially.

    If you are hemorrhaging uncontrollably, I would suggest that you stop the bleeding before it is too late.

    • Greg, you hit on some very important points. I spent a number (too many) of years on a university budget committee. One year the root of the University’s budget woes was expressed perfectly by one the deans. The CFO was indicating the revenues and expenses and the growth, in each, over the years. Revenues had not kept pace with expenses, they had retreated faster than the retreat in expenses. He was trying to make the point that we needed strategies for improving revenues. Imagine if you can a room full of deans and administrators and they are told we need to look into strategies to increase revenues. There was indeed great discussion until finally one of the deans stated. ‘why cant you just tell us how much we need to cut so that we can get on with our business”. It dawned on me then and there that the Universities would always be in trouble. Revenues are what they receive and in their own minds something they have no control over, costs are totally under the control of the dean. Budget shortfall means staff adjustments. Fortunately, the deans did not carry that day and better heads prevailed. Costs were not cut but revenues over time improved through increasing retention by investing in faculty mentoring.

      A market problem always has several potential sources, supply, demand, price and exogenous variables (economy, weather). The same process is required in economics as in medicine. Faced with certain symptoms, what causes can we eliminate. Have we saturated demand, is the price set to optimize long term profit, are their short term or long term exogenous factors that we can control or not control, is our supply too large or too costly.

      Some in the industry have provided anecdotal evidence that would suggest each of these has contributed to excess capacity. Has the profession reacted to any of these? If I were to tell the universities to cut back on the number of students (and they acted on my direction) what number would I tell them is the correct number. Would it make more sense to just tell everyone over 60 they can no longer practice?

      It is easy to say someone else should solve the problem but much harder to say I am the problem. “If it is going to be, it must begin with me”. I learned this, memorized it, in 4H, so many years ago.

      The objective of the Summit is to bring together the industry. We welcome everyone that wants to take a serious shot at figuring out where we are and how we got here so that we can define some strategies that will guide us into the future. But you are right, that does not mean that anyone will act on the information. And, unfortunately, that is something that I can do nothing about – that will be up to the 100,000 veterinarians that make up this profession.

      • Mike,

        Thanks for your input. I do not wish to assume what you mean by :

        :It is easy to say someone else should solve the problem but much harder to say I am the problem. “If it is going to be, it must begin with me”.

        When able, could you please explain what it is you are saying?

        Thank you

          • Mike,

            It has been a couple of weeks since you posted this statement : “It is easy to say someone else should solve the problem but much harder to say I am the problem” and I have asked you twice to clarify what you meant by this.

            At this point, I can only assume. I take it to mean that you feel that the average dues paying member of the AVMA is responsible for this problem.

            I must take issue with that. For one, when I decided to enter this profession, I did so based on the available information which stated that veterinary medicine was a healthy profession with plenty of opportunity. And, by and large, that is what I found once I graduated.

            I paid a great deal of money for my education and have supported the AVMA with my dues since graduation. I have supported the AVMA under the assumption that their mission was to support their dues paying members. Is that where you feel I am to blame?

            I realize that you are now employed by the AVMA and it would likely do you know benefit to point fingers at the organization that signs your paycheck. If you kow of a more culpable party, please let us know.

            Thank you

        • Greg, my apologies for the hiatus. I missed your original question.

          There are several issues in the profession, excess capacity, high cost of entry, and lack of evidence based action. These are industry-wide problems. All three collude to yield the level of industry performance evident today. Major initiatives are underway in the industry to address the first and last. While individuals in the industry/profession of veterinary services may not find these adequate, understand what they are or how they work, or agree with them, the industry is in fact taking action. The individual actors in the industry can stand on the sidelines and cheer or boo, or they can ask what they can do independently to better their own situation and help the industry. As a member the industry of course you are part of the problem. Sounds annoying to hear, but if, as some suggest, there are in fact too many veterinarians, or prices for veterinary services have risen too fast and adversely affected demand, or their is need for animal health services that has not been turned into demand, than veterinarians must accept that they are a part of the industry that has these problems and thus are part of the problem.

          More importantly, my point – “If it is going to be, it must begin with me”, is that veterinarians are the solution, not some economist that sits in an office in Schaumburg. I simply collect and analyze information provided by veterinarians and provide that as evidence about the industry situation and outlook. But, veterinarians must become informed about that information and act. Unfortunately, the series of events that have conspired to reduce performance in the profession over the last decade will take concerted effort over an extended period to resolve. Identifying those specific action that can be taken individually and locally will likely have more immediate impact for the individual practitioner than any broader action by the industry in general.

          • MIke,

            Thank you for your time. I appreciate your input and especially the perspective that you bring from outside of the industry.

            I can’t fully buy in to the “we are all part of the problem” statement. Although it may be true on the surface, similar to the fact that each one of us that breathes is part of the worldwide population problem, the greater majority of us in this profession have not had access to factual information with which to guide our actions. At the very least, quite a bit has been omitted. At the worst, most organizations have spun any and all available information to further their cause.

            So, I still say that there are groups and organizations whose hands are much dirtier and I refuse to take the same amount of responsibility for the poor state of our profession.

            Again, I thank you for your time and appreciate your candor.


  2. Jack, great discussion – thanks so much. Yesterday morning I spent with the analysts from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program. Like most federal employees I have worked with over the years these people were extremely helpful and provided an overview of the data collection, analysis and projection process. I had intend to write an Exploring Economic article on the Occupational Employment Guides that they produce that provide the information you are referring to.

    Let me say first that there are 14 employees in this Program that track roughly 900 professions. I can’t describe how difficult of a task this would be but I spent 30 years gaining expertise on five professions (maybe I am just a slow learner). Like all economists they use an established process for collecting data, modeling relationships and developing projections that is consistent year to year. It certainly doesn’t capture all the diversity within each profession but rather provide for a core set of information that can be compared year after year across professions. These statistics are about labor not management and as you indicate practice owners are not included whether they are sole owners or partners in ownership. Their output is about labor and would include only veterinarians working for a business/government/non-profit or other entity in the classification as a veterinarian.

    The most important point is that the numbers presented are less important that their relationship to the other numbers and how they change over time. The BLS number do not include self-employed (e.g. practice owners) or government employed veterinarians not classified by the office of Personnel Management as veterinarians. It would be nearly impossible, on their own, for this staff to captures are the nuances in a given profession. But, they will willingly accept data from outside, provided it is annually collected.

    All of their data comes from surveys or models using other survey data. For the veterinary profession, the data comes from surveys of veterinarians. Thus, the survey response of one veterinarian may represent 1000 veterinarians (for example). If that data is bad, the validity of the entire set of outputs will be diminished. While this may be problematic, it offers little error on the trends as the number of surveys not completed or incorrectly completed likely does not change over time, or between professions.

    To compare across professions required everyone be on the same footing. So if I make $100,000 per year and work 3000 hours to compare with other profession I need to compute the average hourly wage and then put into an Full Time Equivalent – standard working hour-year of 2080 hours. Now I can compare veterinarians to truck drivers on annual salary knowing that I can make more in either profession if I am willing to work more hours.

    Finally, your last paragraph of course brings joy to an economist’s/statistician’s heart. Don’t take the number at face value. Knowing the trends in numbers, the methods used to collect the data and the assumptions used to generate projections is critically important in any discussion. Note in the Workforce study that the assumption are listed right up front because they are important and impact the results. The assumptions exist because some data did not exist and a “expert opinion” was used. More frequently several numbers are used to give an idea of the sensitivity of the outcome to the changes in the assumption.

    Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, if we keep working on identifying the pieces and getting them put in place we will eventually get a true picture of the industry and will know how to move forward with an understand of how and where we are going. Or we can just shove off and hope for the best.

    Thanks again for taking the time to discuss this important topic. I hope your desire to figure out what is going on is contagious throughout the profession.

  3. Whenever I encounter a conundrum such as exists in the veterinary profession today I follow the money: who benefits having the situation as it is. It benefits academia and large corporate practices.

  4. I have been concerned about this for years. My esteemed alma mater, the University of Missouri, increased class size several years ago from 76 students to 120 students. The only reason I can see they did this is to get more tuition dollars. I sent a letter through our state VMA to the dean, and he came up will all the usual reasons why we needed better than 50% more veterinarians in this state, even though the animal population certainly has not increased to that degree, if at all. I had called for our state VMA to call for his resignation if he did not immediately rescind the increase, but they did not feel that was appropriate.

    I have always been a team player. Member of the AVMA and a state association since graduation 33 years ago, member of our local association for every year since graduation except for 1. I am a lifetime member of our alumni association for Mizzou.

    I did not start complaining about this for purely selfish reasons. Sure, this will hurt me a little bit, but I am going to be fine. My youngest child is a junior in college, so I have very few tuition payments left. I kept overhead low at the office, did a lot of emergency work when I didn’t really need to, so I’ve managed to set away a decent amount for retirement, and fortunately I am not depending on selling my practice as a retirement plan, as so many of us are.

    I am complaining for the younger members of the profession, and those not yet in the profession. If I was in my late twenties to thirties, had a spouse and a child or 2 (and that spouse did not have a whole lot more income than I), I would have gastric ulcers, and I would be soiling my pants most every day, thinking about how I am going to economically survive in this profession, much less buy a house, have nicer cars, save for college tuition for my children, and save for my retirement. I know it seemed hard when I did it, but I can only begin to imagine the stress that most of the young members of our profession must feel when they consider the future of our profession and their role in and benefit from that profession.

    Our leaders MUST wake up to the current situation and aggressively address the oversupply of veterinarians. It is negligent for them not to do so. For too many years they said an oversupply could not be proved. Then, when the Bovine Practitioners came out and said that the AVMA said more large animal DVM’s were needed, and the AVMA said that they couldn’t say that, they needed a study, well, now we have enough studies, and now we need to deal with the problem.

  5. I agree with Dr Wiltz. I graduated from veterinary school in 2001. At that time there were still some job opportunities, but those were already limited, despite the AVMA harping nonstop that “WE NEED MORE VETERINARIANS”. I have had the opportunity to work as a veterinarian in multiple states east of the Mississippi river as myself and my wife completed internships, residencies, and graduate training. I lost my job last year due to budget cuts and elimination of my position. Since then I have taken a very long and hard look at the veterinary work force. The realty is there really are no jobs for veterinarians. Why the AVMA is in denial of this is beyond me. We are graduating hundreds of new veterinarians each year from veterinary schools in this country with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to get jobs that in reality do not make near what they should be making based upon cost of education. Do the math on this. Average starting salary is roughly $55,000. Average student loan debt is pushing $150,000 per the AVMA’s own statistcs. You cannot have a successful profession where those starting out have that level of debt riding over their head.

    We are at a point where we need to FIX THE PROBLEM instead of burying it under another round of meetings and BS like this. The answers are simple and they were outlined above: 1st) have the maturity to admit the AVMA has made mistakes and has been leading the profession in the wrong direction years. 2nd) make a press release NOW telling the public and prevet students the truth about the economics of our profession today and likely worse future . 3rd) publicaly advise the deans of vet schools to stop making matters worse by increasing class sizes with out of state seats. We recognize the financial problems at teaching hospitals. The quick solution of graduating more students will not solve the problems for the profession. It is going to make things much, much worse. 4th) totally reverse this assinine policy of foriegn accreditation.

    If these things are done, we may actually see some improvement in the profession.

  6. This sounds like more stalling and wasting of time. All you have to do is look at the current starting and average salaries over the past 15 years to know we have had a problem for a while. The increase of new vets in the next 10 years will make things much worse. What is needed now is action. First have the maturity to admit the avma has made mistakes and has been leading the profession in the wrong direction for some time. Second make a press release NOW telling the public and prevet students the truth about the economics of our profession today and likely worse future . Third publically advise the deans of vet schools to stop making matters worse by increasing class sizes with out of state seats. Fourth totally reverse this assinine policy of foriegn accreditation. If you were to do these things , you would help the profession and actually represent your membership.

    • Mickey, thanks for taking the time to provide input. I want to be sure you know about the articles we have been publishing on the AVMA web under the title Exploring Economics (https://www.avma.org/PracticeManagement/BusinessIssues/economics/Pages/Exploring-Veterinary-Economics.aspx). Some of your suggestion suggest you may not have read these articles. They are data based and provide valuable insight into the current state of the profession. I feel it would be more productive to discuss your proposals after you have had a chance to review the data and their meaning.

      The US Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics has for some time indicated that the veterinary profession is one of the top professions to consider based on growth in jobs and income (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291131.htm). Their information comes from surveys of the veterinary profession and is published in the Occupational Labor Statistics, a publication for each profession that is viewed by millions of guidance councilors and students every year.

      The AVMA and the Federal Government have reported information from surveys of the profession every year. Much of this information has been poorly provided by the profession and poorly interpreted by the same. When a profession fails to provide accurate information, actions taken based on this information will likely be less than beneficial and industry performance will be diminished.

      As an economist, I am simply miffed at how a profession of medical scientist don’t practice as a profession as they practice in their own clinics. The summit is intended to bring the profession together, to be very systematic in the collection and analysis of data to determine the problems and their causes and effect appropriate “treatments”.

      I hope that you and the rest of the profession will support these efforts and embrace the data/analysis based approach.

      I encourage you to read the articles in Exploring Economics and, if you so desire, debate and discuss the data, analysis and conclusions in each.

      • Mike, can i ask you one question? I have read the sources you listed. And quite frankly when I read them I shook my head and thought to myself “where did they come up with these numbers?” In the reality of what I have experienced in this profession much of it does not match what is outlined in those two references. As an economist I’m sure you can realize that there is manipulation of data done by those types of surveys and there are intrinsic biases due to respondent numbers that can complicate the validity of the data that is listed. The only logical conclusion I can have is that there is an enormous gap in data as it is being represented and the reality of what is going on. I think the AVMA needs to take definitive steps to recognize what is really happening and not cloud it in statistical manipulation.

        • Jack, I appreciate hearing your perspective. Since January I have been trying to understand the economics of the profession from the data that is available. My only agenda is to give the best, unbiased estimate of conditions and characteristics of the profession as is possible given the historic data that is available. The Exploring Economics articles are providing you with the data that I have been able to identify and the analysis of the data based on appropriate statistical methods. If you disagree with what they say, I am more than willing to discuss an alternative analytical approach or different source of data. AS you must admit, I am putting everything (data and analysis) out there for all to see and ponder. I am not sure I understand your last two sentences but let me try to answer this way. If what you see out your window is not what the data and analysis indicate then either the data and analysis is incorrect or the view from your window is not accurate for the entire profession. The Workforce Summit is a definitive step that AVMA is taking to get the best data and organize the best analytic processes to understand what is “really” happening. I don’t know what you mean by statistical manipulation. The statistical methods we have employed provide a measure of the relationships between variables (characteristics, factors, etc) or provide an indication of long term trends (relationship of a variable to time). Just like you (if your in clinical practice) I use data based evidence to determine “cause” for the purpose of identifying appropriate positive strategies. I make no claims about the accuracy of the data from surveys, veterinarians may know this better, as they are its source.

          • Mike,

            First thank you for your openness. For a long time I have thought there is a major disconnect from the veterinary profession leaders–ie administrative members of the AVMA and veterinary colleges. The reality of veterinary medicine is those who graduated in the 1970s and 80s simply do not face the student loan debt that today’s new graduates do. I am, at this point convinced too that there are many that just do not understand the economics of someone with 50-60K in salary trying to pay 150K in student loans. Those individuals basically lose a minimum of 1/2 of a paycheck a month (if in reduced repayment) and over 3/4 of a paycheck a month or more if in full repayment. The blank stares I’ve gotten from colleagues when discussing the economics in that way have convinced me it is something that some have a great deal of difficulty comprehending. The example I usually use is the roughly $2800 a month take home pay for a 53K a year job becomes $1600 very quickly after student loans are paid. Add in reasonable rent or house payment (if they are lucky enough to buy a house) of 700-900 a month and you have $700 a month. Subtract $175 a month for average electricity and utilities (yes this is highly variable, so please just consider the example) and you are left with just over $500 a month to live off of. Include food, gasoline, car payment, insurance for car, and family necessities (medication) and we have a profession graduating professionals in debt with no way out. This is the true financial future of veterinary medicine as it stands right now. This is my ‘real world” example based upon what I personally have experienced as a veterinarian and what I have observed colleagues having to experience.

            As far as my last two sentences, allow me to point out two key sentences with the Bureau of Labor Statistics data you posted that have led me to think that the numbers being presented do not necessarily match anything that is really happening. These two footnotes appear throughout that data.

            “(1) Estimates for detailed occupations do not sum to the totals because the totals include occupations not shown separately. Estimates do not include self-employed workers.

            (2) Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a “year-round, full-time” hours figure of 2,080 hours; for those occupations where there is not an hourly mean wage published, the annual wage has been directly calculated from the reported survey data.”

            So as i interpret this information, those numbers being touted by the BLS are intrinsically flawed for veterinary medicine. The AVMA still pushs the “own your own practice” still to this day, yet the data available do not include “self employed” workers. Is a veterinary practice owner not self employed? What if that owner is a partial owner of a hospital in partnership with 2-3 other veterinarians? in a literal interpretation they are also self employed so are they not incuded too? As I am interpreting this data there is a large portion of veterinarians not included in this information.

            Second, those annual wages published are just calculated, they are not real numbers. How many veterinarians are not working full time and how many are working part time for a local emergency clinic making extra money to supplement their income? As this data is listed a veterinarian working 2 days a month at the local hospital for $80 dollars an hour can be reported as a veterinarian making $160K a year when they are actually making 58K a year in the practice they just purchased (becoming self employed) and supplementing with 12K a year at the local emergency hospital. You have a major, major difference in what they are making and what their calculated numbers say they are making. That is the statistical manipulation and bias I speak of in my last two sentences. I also question the RSE based on this information.

            Perhaps you can explain these numbers better than I am interpreting them. I will be the first to say I am not an economist, however I am a business owner and I have been involved with small business most of my adult life. One of the things I have learned to do is not just take numbers at face value as I gather the AVMA wants us to do. The more questions I ask about the numbers being presented, the more questions I have.

  7. I hope you spend real significant time evaluating non clinical practice veterinary roles, numbers of people, entry requirements, potential employers known and unknown, etc. Veterinarians do more than clinical practice and we need to make sure all avenues are covered so there is adequate job mobility to account for life changes over a 40 year career.

    • Chip, excellent input. We have indeed invited representative from all areas of “Public Practice” to help us understand the data that needs to collected and analyzed and the issues that are important to the non-clinical segments of the profession. I would encourage you to keep an eye on our progress and if you see an area that is not being adequately addressed please let me know.