A major study released April 23 by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) — and conducted by IHS Healthcare & Pharma in partnership with the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the State University of New York — estimated an excess capacity of veterinary services in the U.S. Specifically, the report indicates that 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.
The excess capacity estimated in the report does not mean that 11,250 veterinarians were unemployed during the study period, but that 12.5% of veterinarians' capacity to provide services was going unused. If current conditions continue, the study projects that this is likely to persist into the foreseeable future, AVMA said.
Based on an executive summary, some key findings of the report include:
* Excess capacity for veterinary services was highest for equine practice (23% excess capacity), followed by small animal (18%), food animal (15%) and mixed practices (13%). It was assumed that in 2012 the demand for veterinarians employed in government, academia, industry, and "other" sectors is equal to supply (i.e., there is no shortfall or surplus at the national level).
* Women constitute approximately 50% of the current workforce, but will likely grow to 71% of the workforce by 2030. Women constitute 78% of new graduates, whereas the older workforce nearing traditional retirement age is predominantly male.
* Based on estimates of excess capacity among veterinarians in clinical practice and the assumption of balance between supply and demand for veterinarians in non-clinical practice, national demand for veterinarians was calculated to be 78,950 in 2012. Comparison to supply suggests national excess capacity of 12.5% at current price levels for services (equivalent to the services of approximately 11,250 veterinarians).
* The Baseline Demand Scenario models current trends -- accounting for changing household demographics, trends in livestock and food animal consumption patterns and demand drivers in other employment sectors. Therefore, this scenario 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 respondent veterinarians working in clinical practice to characterize their local veterinary market and their practices' capacity and productivity. Of those surveyed, 53% said they believed they were working at less than full capacity. One question the AVMA hopes to answer going forward is why some clinical practices are working at full capacity and others are not.
On a conference call with the media, 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 analysis and the best available existing data collected by the AVMA, federal agencies and other organizations, as well as the aforementioned veterinary workforce survey. However, during the study major gaps in data were identified.
As a result of the national study, AVMA also announced that it has developed a new computer software model that will help paint a clearer picture of the current and future veterinary workforce.
The Veterinary Workforce Simulation Model, an AVMA-owned, proprietary software, will play a key role in helping AVMA and its recently established Veterinary Economics Division produce ongoing updates that will enable the association, veterinarians, veterinary educators and other key stakeholders to better understand issues pertaining to the supply and demand for veterinarians and veterinary services, as well as overall veterinary economics.
The improved ability to collect, measure, track and analyze this data will help fill long-existing gaps in important information that affected this study and others in the past.
However, AVMA president Douglas Aspros warned that the efforts to seek more insights into the issues surrounding the profession should not diminish the importance of this study and its implications.
"As a veterinarian, I would hope policy-makers across the profession, including those responsible for existing veterinary colleges and those planning future educational programs, closely study the report and carefully consider its implications," Aspros said.
"When we say there's 12.5% excess capacity in the system, we can take that as a reliable finding. What we don't know is what that practically means in various sectors of the profession," he said, adding that the association is fully committed to conducting further research on the profession and veterinary economics.
AVMA emphasized that the report and its findings are 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, as well as a companion report issued by the AVMA Workforce Advisory Group, titled "Implications of the 2013 Veterinary Workforce Study & Recommendations for Future Actions," are available on the AVMA's website at www.avma.org.