Veterinary Economics Summit: Supply, demand and workforce issues

Editor’s Note (Jan. 28, 2014): The AVMA employment survey has yet to be distributed. We anticipate that it will be sent in early February. We apologize for any confusion we may have caused.

It was a frank and open discussion when nearly 50 people representing all facets of the veterinary profession gathered in September to discuss the issues and opportunities related to veterinary economics. Many perspectives and ideas were shared about the state of affairs and what directions should be taken to address veterinary supply and demand, and what’s happening with the veterinary workforce. In the end, everyone attending the 2013 AVMA Veterinary Workforce Summit agreed that we need to collect and share valid data that gives us a clearer picture of the veterinary profession, including the need to better track the supply and demand of veterinarians and their services.

Now, as 2014 has begun, the AVMA is busy gathering data relevant to the supply and demand of veterinary services, and how price and income affects clients’ use of those services. We recently sent an employment survey to veterinarians across the country that will help us determine employment rates in the profession. The survey focuses on unemployment and underemployment levels within the veterinary profession, trying to determine which factors may lead to both. A second survey, scheduled for distribution this spring, will help us determine capacity utilization in veterinary practices and to understand why some practices are running at full capacity while others are not. In addition, we will be surveying both practice owners and consumers in 12 metropolitan markets across the country to determine how the demand for veterinary services responds to changing prices and incomes, and how that response is affected by various demographic factors.

We’ve collected data in the past, but nothing this detailed in terms of employment levels, practice capacity and consumer behavior. The data we collect is critical to helping us better determine what factors are playing a role in the veterinary economy and what can be done collectively to address them.

If you receive one of the surveys specific to veterinarians, we urge you to take the time to respond with thoughtfulness and accuracy. As practicing veterinarians, you have the data we need. By providing the information we seek through the surveys, you can help us as we work to promote the efficiency and the profitability of the veterinary profession.

16 thoughts on “Veterinary Economics Summit: Supply, demand and workforce issues

  1. Too many veterinarians for a decreased economy. How are new graduates making out. How can we raise salaries if not making enough money. Are the non profits hiring veterinarians paying the same as us of more? They should be paying more because they save an extra 30 % on taxes but there prices do not reflect this? In Tucson, Az. we have for profit clinics doing spays, neuters, and vaccines at the same prices as the humane society and they have to pay taxes. Sounds like non profits are not doing their fair share to help new or old veterinarians with increased salaries. Pima County has an opening for a shelter vet. that has been on the jobs list for at least a year. Either they really do not want to hire a vet. or the pay is not worth the job. I have applied twice and had one interview and nothing came of it. I have been a vet. for 39 years and still working full time. I also do half a days surgery twice weekly so why not hire an old MAN with some experience? TOO MUCH EEOC.

  2. Well I am disappointed in the AVMA. The major problem of an oversupply in veterinarians has been staring us in the face for many years. The AVMA has continually encouraged the building of new schools and the expansion of old schools. Now we are faced with one more study. Sure I will participate but I am very doubtful that it will lead to any action. The AVMA is in theory an organization that all veterinarians elect to belong to, so in theory the problem is all of us have encouraged poor leadership. But hope springs eternal and perhaps this crisis will bring some new blood and new leadership

  3. You efforts are appreciated it my help to address the problem which affecting us all on different level.there is supply ,mor than demand in small animal practice far more than large and farm nimals pctice. I think vet. Schools increasing class size,increase tuition.the graduates who are looking for work does not Meet the need.
    New graduates have first thing in mind, how they will pay back their dept?
    Therefore they ask for very heigh salary before they get to know how to practice good med. and how to generate
    Income for the practice to justify their salary and the whole pakage. I had very hard time to hire a new graduate for a slery less than $90.000 for first year. I understand their needs,but also the hardship on the practice owner. I will be happy to answer survey. I think the number of graduate should decrease for the few coming years,encourage graduates to go for farm animals with compatible income.
    Put a cap on starting salary to help hospital owners to hire more new grad.
    Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this discussion.

    • I would disagree that the supply and demand is worse in small animal practice than it is in large animal practice. Large animal and farm animal have had this problem for about 2 decades. It was largely ignored because it did not effect the small animal segment as much until now. We could not get the attention of AVMA and members until it became an issue it the wallets of the small animal practices.
      More study now? This was needed long ago. What has my dues been used for during the last 30 years? All of these studies are very late in this process.

  4. Many national organizations that represent various professional and hobby groups of individuals are struggling with the idea of falling membership and relevance to its membership or to those that they would like to have as members. Branding is the holy grail to increasing AVMA responsiveness and membership. As long as the organization continues to perceive and define itself along narrow traditional lines, it will continue to stagnate. AVMA has a diverse clientele. we should be asking the diverse clientele what it needs, wants and then produce that to continue relevancy. Small samples such as commonly done cannot begin to impact the diversity that our profession encompasses. It is a tough question-but how are we branding ourselves? I see low or falling salaries with gender inequities in the same employment niches that have been covered for the 25 years since I became a VMD. if you keep doing the same things and expect a different answer, then shame on you.

  5. The use of surveys of opinion as a substitute for collection of real data relating to the issue is appalling.

    The studies being quoted are summaries of what individuals think, hope or believe to have occurred.

    They are no better than a study asking individuals how many grams of fat, protein and carbohydrates they consumed on a given day a year ago, who ate with them and what did it cost to determine the cause of obesity. Conclusions could be reached, but they would be inherently flawed.

    Data from private and corporate practice records for the last 20 years is required to begin the study.

    • Sigh! Another “study”. Another confusing of the concepts of studying a problem being equal to doing something about a problem.

      Two major points:

      1) We don’t need help 5 years from now, we needed help 5 years ago (or more actually).

      2) The AVMA has no authority or power to change the things which need changing.

      Let’s assume the results of your survey(s) conclusively show there are too many new vets being graduated each year from US and foreign schools and the only sane solution is to close schools and reduce class sizes. What can the AVMA do to accomplish those objectives? Absolutely, positively nothing!

      The only ones who can affect the needed changes are vet school deans and administrations and they will not even admit there is a problem. They just keep enlarging class sizes and building more schools. Having skipped as a group Business 101, they collectively assert there is no problem with over-supply, just one of under-utilization and lack of demand for services.

      Why were they not included in your original summit? Some of the representatives there had a vested and none-too-secret interest in increasing the number of practicing vets in the US and have openly advanced plans to do so.

      I believe the profession as it is/was known is shot and will now die a slow and painful death in terms of both income and admiration. My only hope is that it will be able to re-emerge like a Phoenix from the ashes at some point in the future. I won’t be here for that but I wish you every good fortune.

      • As the recent purchaser (for pennies on the dollar) of a failed practice, market forces will eventually bring this entire picture into equilibrium. This however will occur with very real financial pain on the part of starry eyed new grads. When I first graduated 33 years ago, I can honestly say I never once heard of a practitioner going belly up

        It is in the best interests for the Banfields/ VCA’s of this country to get as many new grads as possible. This will drive the cost of delivering services for Banfield down and cement their long avowed ideal to crush the private practitioner,.

        It is the mission statement of the deans of the veterinary schools in this country to put out grads, else they close and the very deans lose their jobs. I actively dissuade young people from veterinary medicine as they can do much better in the world of computer engineering, with time for family, vacation, health care and profit sharing.

        I guess it is better that the AVMA is at least recognizing the problem but as the saying goes, it is a day late and a dollar short. I think the real pain is yet to come as the problem is worsening as each month goes by.

        • I have not read all the comments, but know that have have hopped for years some new mixed animal veterinarian would like to join our practice. My staff and I are all over 60 and I am nearer 70 and we had stopped chasing large animals a few years ago. To add another Dr. we need to include farm visites. Someone has appeared and we are delighted as she also has seven years experience. I have tried for years to encourage prectices to have sections for animal resque / cremations services and was looked at as to business orientated. I believe both of these areas need to be under veterinarian oversite for many reasons. I am in a small town and there are no humane societies etc.
          I think anyone entering our flield needs to know that the patients do not bring themselves in and business skills, socials skills and a great receptionist will be needed. If you only want to do medicine be a specialist in a big city or become a DM not a DVM. This is the best of vocations and I have children in human and animal medicine and can tell you being a DM is no picknic. I encourage everyone to do their “passion” because it is a long life and money is not as fulfilling as feeling relevant . I still get up everyday looking forward to what my practice has in store of me. Best Regards Dr J.

      • Dr. McLaughlin’s comments are 100% right on. I graduated in 1975 and have seen many tremendous changes in our profession, one of which is the number of new veterinary teaching institutions, be it public, private or foreign. Dr. McLaughlin is correct in that the AVMA has done study after study, ad nauseum and is powerless to reduce the supply of new graduates. One of my old professors (graduated in the 1940’s) in veterinary school told our class there is, “always room for a good veterinarian” in any given area. He was wrong. There isn’t always room at the inn, and some are going to be left in the cold because the inn isn’t expanding. This point is contrary to veterinary college deans who haven’t a clue what it takes to own and manage a private, for profit practice, albeit solo or multi-doc with a dwindling case load.

        Also, surveying 12 metropolitan areas is not valid for obtaining useful data for all practices. Veterinarians practice across the US, not just metropolitan areas. Don’t forget the small solo, or two-doc practice in rural towns or hamlets.

  6. Someone once said there is nothing more awesome than ignorance in action. Instead of following the example of the dentists who are closing several schools of dentistry due to oversupply, the veterinary profession continues to create new schools and increase the enrollment of the schools already in existence. It makes no sense to graduate more veterinarians than demand for their services warrants. Oversupply of veterinarians will drive down salaries and, due to the tremendous start-up costs of establishing a practice, push the profession farther into the arms of corporate ownership..

    • I have long tried to emulate the practice management style of dentists. About 50 years ago they reduced the number of practice hours available to the public, increasing the perception of value in the patients’ minds. This is why you see dentists working 4 1/2 day weeks and making incomes far exceeding veterinarians. At the same time we have had practice consultants telling us that we need to increase our hours….be open on Saturdays, be open early and late to accommodate clients work schedules. All that has done is create a perception of availability and lack of value, not only in the minds of clients, but in the minds of veterinarians, especially in the younger generation.

      I agree with your recommendation to again follow the lead of dentists by closing veterinary schools and reducing the number of graduates. Not only will this create more demand and more value for the services of veterinarians, it will also result in a better caliber of of student. Fewer seats will, I would hope, result in schools accepting only the absolute best applicants. The best academically would most likely also be the most driven and passionate and entrepreneurial. This would hopefully then create a resurgence in the number of private practices,

      I wish veterinarians would quit trimming nails and putting themselves on the same level as a groomer. What is the message you are conveying to owners? Would their physician give them a pedicure? I haven’t trimmed nails, unless there was a pathology, ever. Again, perception is so important.

  7. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts and comments. Representatives from AABP, AAEP, AAFP, AASV, AAHA, AAVC, AAVMC, NBVME, Henry Schein, Banfield, IDEXX, VCA Antech, VIN and Brakke were among those representing entities within the profession that have access to and or use data. The focus of the meeting was on what analysis would be needed to bring solutions to practicing veterinarians. I want to assure veterinarians that this is not just an academic exercise to describe what problems exist in the profession, but rather a very real strategic process for identifying alternative strategies to help veterinarians become more profitable.

    I am sorry to hear any veterinarian say they have given up on AVMA. Like you, I am busting at the seams to come up with potential solutions to help the individual veterinarians and the profession as whole move forward. We certainly value everyone’s input and would welcome the opportunity to respond to any specific questions, comments or concerns that you might have. Please keep an objective eye on us over the next year and let us know if you feel we are improving.

    More importantly, we are trying to insure that every veterinarian receives only one request from AVMA per year for information collected through surveys. Every survey will be developed to help us collect the information we need to develop tools and information for use by veterinarians. Thus, we will need to have high levels of participation to insure statistically reliable representation by smaller groups of veterinarians such as small rural companion/mixed practices, swine or poultry practices, or specific specialties.

    If you feel you have been left out, please let me know, as we always need veterinarians to test the surveys before they are sent out for the actual survey and this is another way to provide valuable input. Thanks again for your thoughts and concerns.

  8. Who were the 45 prominent leaders of our profession that were invited to the summit and what entities did they represent?

    Thank you

  9. I hope you are sending out survey material to all members and not just a demographically selected few. I’m in a small city (pop. 18000) and we have 9 practitioners practicing out of 4 practices and none of us are busy. So be thorough and send surveys to all practices. Then the results will truly be accurate and representative. And if this costs more money, so be it…..take it out of the budget for the COE.

  10. I will happily fill out the survey, but what is needed now is real action not more study. The avma needs to actually represent its members and give real detailed answers as to why it has policies which are harming vets in private practice. I have canceled my membership and will not give theavma another dime until it starts to represent my interest. Mickey wiltz DVM