A MAJOR report released April 23 by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) estimated an excess capacity of veterinary services in the U.S.
Specifically, the supply of veterinarians in the U.S. in 2012 was 90,200, and that supply exceeded the demand for veterinary services by about 11,250 full-time equivalent veterinarians.
That does not mean that 11,250 veterinarians were unemployed during the study period but that 12.5% of veterinarians' capacity to provide services went unused. If current conditions continue, the report projects that this is likely to persist into the foreseeable future, AVMA said.
Based on an executive summary, some key findings of the AVMA report include:
* Excess capacity for veterinary services was highest for equine practices (23% excess capacity), followed by small animal (18%), food animal (15%) and mixed practices (13%). It was assumed that the demand for veterinarians employed in government, academia, industry and "other" sectors in 2012 was equal to supply (i.e., there is no shortfall or surplus at the national level).
* Based on these estimates, national demand for veterinarians was calculated to be 78,950 in 2012. A comparison to supply suggests a national excess capacity of 12.5% at current price levels for services (equivalent to the services of approximately 11,250 veterinarians).
* Women constitute approximately 50% of the current workforce, but that percentage will likely grow to 71% of the workforce by 2030 based on the number of new veterinary graduates who are women and the number of retiring veterinarians who are men.
* The Baseline Demand Scenario models current trends -- such as household demographics, livestock and food animal trends and demand drivers in other employment sectors -- and represents the best estimate of future demand under the status quo. Under this scenario, total demand is projected to grow to 88,100 in 2025 (or by 12% relative to 2012).
A veterinary workforce survey used as a part of the study asked responding veterinarians working in clinical practice to characterize their local veterinary markets and their practices' capacity and productivity. Of those surveyed, 53% said they believed they were working at less than full capacity (Figure).
On a media conference call, AVMA officials explained that some level of excess capacity is needed to handle other functions in a practice or to cover new or unscheduled clients. Too much excess capacity can be a negative, they said.
The workforce study was conducted using expert analyses and the best available existing data collected by AVMA, federal agencies and other organizations. However, during the study, major gaps in data were identified that AVMA hopes to fill in the future.
As a result of the national study, AVMA also announced that it has developed a new computer software model -- the Veterinary Workforce Simulation Model -- that will help the recently established Veterinary Economics Division track current and future veterinary workforce trends.
On the food animal side, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) noted that the new AVMA study confirmed what AABP has been examining for a few years: that there is not necessarily a shortage of food animal veterinarians but, rather, a lack of veterinary services in some underserved geographic areas.
AABP said it has been "active in studying the issue of food animal and mixed-animal veterinarians through its Committee on Veterinary Practice Sustainability for the last three years."
AABP president Nigel Cook noted that the livestock industry is changing, and veterinary services need to adapt to maintain the profession's presence on the farm.
"There are many examples of successful practice models that expand veterinary services beyond traditional roles into consulting and facilitatory services, and the current concerns over pharmaceutical use and antimicrobial resistance, alongside animal welfare concerns, may ultimately create new opportunities not factored into this report," Cook said.
Noting that the AVMA study is an "important step among many taken in recent years to help the veterinary medical profession achieve a more appropriate state of economic equilibrium," the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) pointed out that the report distinguishes between "need and demand."
Although there may be a need for more veterinarians to work in food production, especially in some rural areas, demand may be insufficient to make veterinary practices in these areas financially viable, AAVMC said.
Changing market conditions and characteristics have pressured the economic well-being of the veterinary profession for the past 25 years, AAVMC said, pointing to imbalances rooted in the way society will pay for human-quality clinical care for companion animals, changes in agricultural production practices and other factors.
Expanding the "demand" side of the equation will be an important part of solving this problem, AAVMC noted. Market forces are critical determinants of capacity and demand in an economic system, and periods of friction and stress often occur as professions work through supply/demand cycles, AAVMC explained.
AVMA emphasized that the study is a starting point and not the end of its efforts to ensure adequate access to veterinary services and the economic viability of the veterinary medical profession.
The "2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study: Modeling Capacity Utilization" -- conducted by IHS Healthcare & Pharma, in partnership with the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the State University of New York -- and a companion report issued by the AVMA Workforce Advisory Group are available at www.avma.org.