recession, the initial earning losses can be expected to eventually fade away after 8 to 10 years, according to an optimistic study on short- and long-term career effects of graduating in a recession (Oreopoulos et al., 2006). In the mean time, educational debts have to be serviced.
Though no definitive data is available on whether there is a shortage of equine veterinarians, there was, prior to the recession, a perception of such a shortage among equine practitioners (Green, 2008). In the 2007 AAEP Lifestyles and Salary Survey, 68% of respondents reported that their practice had difficulty recruiting new staff, and 39% reported a shortage of practitioners in their area (AAEP, 2008).
One estimate of future workforce needs in equine medicine would be to consider the rate at which the current pool of AAEP-member veterinarians in the United States who spend more than 75% of time in equine practice (approximately 4,254) would need to be replaced over time, assuming that an average working career is projected to last 35 years. To determine the number of new graduates needed annually to replace those who retire, the total current workforce (4,254) is divided by the projected career span (35 years). The result is that an estimated 122 new equine veterinarians are needed each year to maintain the size of the current workforce. According to AVMA annual surveys of new graduates, a much smaller number of new veterinarians are taking jobs in equine practice, ranging from a high of 66 in 2006 to 37 in 2011 (AVMA, 2011b).
The recession that began in 2007 has reduced demand for equine veterinary services and has changed workforce needs in equine veterinary medicine, but to what extent it has done so is still largely unknown. One way to measure the recession’s impact is by monitoring the decline in the number of new positions advertised through the AAEP. As of June 2009, AAEP online job postings had fallen by 25% compared to previous years, and had stabilized at this reduced level over the next months. During the same period, overall traffic at the AAEP Career Center had also decreased by 25%.
An Aging Workforce
Equine veterinarians are aging as a group, with the average age of equine practitioners increasing from 44 to 46 years between 2001 and 2007 (AAEP, 2008). In 2001, 70% of AVMA members who identified themselves as equine practitioners were younger than 50 years old, and by 2009, the proportion had fallen to 60%. Based on a continuation of those trends, AVMA has projected that by 2013 only about 50% of its members who are equine practitioners will be under the age of 50.
Inter-related forces appear to influence the advancing age of equine practitioners. First, there is an inadequate number of new graduates willing to make