has significantly outpaced income growth, a situation exacerbated by the current economic downturn.
Since 2009, women have comprised the majority of U.S. veterinarians (AVMA, 2010a). Most are companion-animal veterinarians who are more likely to work fewer hours than veterinarians in other sectors of practice, and their incomes are lower than their male counterparts (Felsted and Volk, 2000). In addition to the fact that fewer men in general are entering veterinary medicine, minorities remain at about 10% of the workforce, although efforts by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) have increased minority student enrollment to about 12% of the student population (Cima, 2008).
The number of women in the veterinary profession has increased at the same time that corporate ownership of companion-animal veterinary clinics, such as Banfield, a division of Mars, Inc., have expanded. Those clinics employ many veterinarians as associates, but veterinary associates make less money than private practice owners. In addition, as additional veterinary schools outside the United States have come on-line, the pool of companion-animal veterinarians in the United States is growing. Therefore, there is another set of critical questions for the profession: how to adjust to the global economic slowdown, how to reduce the cost of a veterinary education, and how to maintain a strong profession, not only in companion-animal practice, but in other sectors of veterinary medicine that are important to society.
This report examines such questions and how they relate to the size and composition of the workforce and the occupational roles of veterinarians in the public and private sector (Table 1-1). Societal needs can only be met if there are jobs filled by individuals who are qualified to address the demands of the job. Thus there is concern that for some occupations—biomedical laboratory-animal researchers, for example—jobs are remaining unfilled for long periods, while in other cases where their expertise could be applied, such as in ecosystem health, jobs for veterinarians appear to be scarce. In other instances, such as food-animal practice in rural areas and public food-safety inspection, openings exist, but the financial incentives are too low to attract qualified candidates. If salaries aren’t likely to increase, other solutions to delivering veterinary expertise would be needed.
Although every profession is affected by changes that occur in society, there is a limited ability to redirect veterinary expertise to respond quickly to the changes affecting it. To begin, there is often a debate about what changes are needed or even what can be achieved. And because the size of the workforce cannot be expanded easily, a small gap in response (for example, in redirecting part of the workforce) could have large effects in the sectors affected by them (such as increasing vulnerability to disease in the $120 billion livestock sector). In addition to uncertainty, there are multiple barriers to changing the size and composition of the veterinary workforce that can only be overcome with substantial, long-term, economic and human investments.