AVMA workforce study confirms status of food-animal veterinarians

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The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) says the new American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) 2013 U. S Veterinary Workforce Study confirms what it 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.

Tuesday the AVMA released the study which indicates a 12.5 percent excess capacity of all veterinary services in the United States, meaning that 12.5 percent of the 90,200 U.S. veterinarians’ capacity to provide services is going unused. AVMA leaders explained in a press conference that excess capacity does not necessarily equate to oversupply.  

For the food-animal veterinary sector, excess capacity (15 percent) was lower than for other sectors (equine [23 percent], small-animal [18 percent]) and slightly higher than mixed-animal practice (13 percent). The study estimated a current 2012 supply of 11,060 full time equivalent (FTE) food-animal veterinarians, with a demand for 9,550 FTEs.  

Link Welborn, DVM, chair of AVMA’s Workforce Advisory Group said in the food-animal and mixed-animal sectors, mal-distribution of veterinarians is a primary problem. “There are areas where services are needed but veterinarians don’t exist,” he explained.

The AABP 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. Committee Project Director David Welch, VMD, MBA, Berlin, Pa., says the AABP appreciates the effort put into the AVMA study. “The finding that there will be double-digit underutilization of veterinary services over the next decade supports what the AABP ad hoc Rural Veterinary Practice Committee discovered, which is that there is no longer a shortage of food animal veterinarians, but a problem of distribution and practice viability in certain under-served geographical areas,” Welch says.

AABP President Nigel Cook, MRCVS, University of Wisconsin-Madison, says 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 which 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 says.

AABP’s Veterinary Practice Sustainability committee is actively involved in searching out non-traditional business plans that will serve the livestock owner’s veterinary needs better than the historic norm. Welch notes that the use of veterinary technicians to help in the provision of veterinary care is but one of several tactics being examined by AABP and other veterinary organizations.

“We believe food-animal veterinarians will continue to play a vital role in meeting the growing world population’s demand for safe, wholesome food,” Cook adds, “but we do agree that there are threats to this continued role, and we are glad to see the AVMA report raise the issue.”

To help its members address these issues, at the 2013 AABP Annual Conference in Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 19-21, the Committee on Veterinary Practice Sustainability will focus sessions on financial planning, business management and issue-based help/clearinghouse for veterinarians in rural practice.

The AVMA has plans to conduct further studies on the U.S. veterinary workforce. Read AVMA’s 2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study at the AVMA website.

AABP is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization serving cattle veterinary medicine professionals across the United States, Canada and other countries. Visit AABP online.


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