slowly but steadily in the last decade, the workforce in the past has been in balance with the needs of society and has made major contributions and achieved great progress in supporting critical human (and animal) needs. However, a changing environment for veterinary medicine has disturbed that balance, raising concerns inside and outside of the profession that the workforce might be insufficient to address all of what is being asked of it, placing at risk not only society’s priorities for caring and using animals, but also animal and human health, lives, and livelihoods.
Some of those changes have altered the demand for traditional veterinary services, particularly in relation to the production and care of food animals both in the United States, where consolidation has resulted in fewer but larger, intensive animal-production units, and globally, where food-animal production in developing countries has sharply expanded to accommodate growing urban populations who want more meat and milk in their diets. In addition to altering the kind of veterinary services needed and the way in which they are delivered, the changing footprint of food-animal production has also created concerns related to pollution, impacts on wildlife and ecosystems, food safety, and infectious diseases that have collectively expanded the purview of veterinary medicine into a newly forming discipline described as “One Health.” A key question is whether the veterinary profession is preparing adequately to address the food security and health needs of the closely-interconnected world of the 21st century through participation in the One Health discipline.
The demand for veterinary services has also been modified by new advances in medical treatments for companion animals that are increasingly requested by pet owners. To deliver those treatments, a growing number of veterinarians are seeking board certification in specialty veterinary medical fields. Although it represents an advancement of the companion-animal workforce, that trend has strained the resources of veterinary colleges and schools that have attempted to provide specialty training in addition to a broadly-based education to entry-level veterinarians, without sufficient resources to do both.
The biggest change affecting veterinary schools and colleges is, in fact, the decline in public support for basic veterinary education and research at the state and federal levels. A consequence of tightened budgets, the loss of funds has raised concerns that the ability of the profession to continue contributing to biomedical science and public welfare is being quickly eroded, because the pipeline of future veterinary research scientists depends on strong research and teaching programs in academe. It is not surprising that there is a strong demand for DVM-PhDs in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries—since comparative medicine is a basis of biomedicine; however, without support for the specialty training needed by industry or the academic research training needed by both industry and academe, the pipeline of those candidates will soon be empty. How to reverse this trend is a major question and a challenge for the colleges and schools of veterinary medicine. The decline in public support for veterinary education has also placed a growing tuition burden on students, and student debt