US veterinary groups clash over need for more practitioners

AVMA critical of since-retracted AAVMC report

Published: May 07, 2024

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The American Veterinary Medical Association President Dr. Rena Carlson has expressed concern that a report commissioned by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges overestimates the need for more practitioners.

American Veterinary Medical Association leaders sharply criticized a report commissioned by a group that represents the nation's veterinary schools, maintaining that it overstated an apparent need for more practitioners.

Coming under further fire, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges withdrew the report for a different reason: It acknowledged the report didn't respectfully represent the increasing role that women are playing in a profession that is predominantly female.

The ruckus came as players in the veterinary community attempt to balance a need to supply enough veterinarians to meet future demand for their services without going overboard and flooding the market with so many practitioners that pay, working conditions and professional standards suffer.

The AAVMC-commissioned report, dated March 10 and titled Demand for and Supply of Veterinarians in the U.S. to 2032, was authored by Robert J. Gitter, an economics professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, and Bill LaFayette, owner of a consultancy called Regionomics. In the report, they estimated 52,986 graduates will join the workforce through 2032, meeting just 76% of the 70,092 new veterinarians they projected the country will need.

"The supply shortfall can be addressed by reducing veterinarian turnover, improving efficiency, and increasing the supply of graduates," the report said.

The AVMA, the country's principal trade organization representing veterinarians, outlined its objections in a letter to the AAVMC board of directors dated April 1. The letter was signed by Drs. Rena Carlson and Janet D. Donlin, the AVMA president and chief executive, respectively.

In brief

"Candidly, we worry that the analysis substantively underestimates the supply of veterinarians and overestimates demand for them," they wrote. 

Whether intentionally or not, the two groups' conflicting views on demand and supply support their respective missions. The AVMA is tasked with protecting veterinarians' interests, while the AAVMC looks after the needs of veterinary schools.

Dispute over data selection

The authors of the AAVMC-commissioned report said they adopted a new measurement approach based on "10-year projections of occupational growth and turnover" from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They projected a need for at least 1,600 new seats at U.S. veterinary schools by the early 2030s, including expansions that already are planned.

Total enrollment in U.S. veterinary schools during the 2022-23 academic year was 15,157, according to separate figures from the AAVMC.

In their criticism, the AVMA's Carlson and Donlin contended that the report substantially underestimated the number of new graduates coming down the pike. They also suggested the report hadn't sufficiently considered certain demand drivers, such as the number of animals to be treated and fluctuating spending power among pet owners.

"We need to be particularly judicious in how we are reporting such estimates, because representations that this data is definitive can lead to recommendations for far-reaching proposals that are not in the best interest of our patients, clients, or colleagues," they wrote.

Once such proposal, they said, is the push to create a midlevel practitioner role that would hand the performance of some clinical duties — including diagnosing and prescribing — to nonveterinarians with advanced technical training.

The AAVMC and AVMA have clashed on the topic of workforce needs before.

The AVMA letter noted that its problems with the AAVMC's methodology are similar to concerns it expressed about two previous workplace studies published by the AAVMC, in 2021 and 2023.

The authors of the 2024 AAVMC report conceded there were shortcomings in previous studies and maintained that the AVMA's own previous workplace projections had similar shortcomings. The report defended other elements of earlier AAVMC reports, while contending that its latest analysis provides a more accurate picture.

The two organizations teamed up to produce workplace reports published in 1992 and 2012 — an arrangement that the AVMA's Carlson and Donlin said provided "tremendous value."

"Might it be time to consider a third such collaboration?" they asked in the letter.

In other veterinary economics news ...

Report pulled due to 'lack of inclusivity' on gender issues

Building a case that the profession is undersupplied, the AAVMC report said two demographic shifts are shrinking the average number of hours worked by veterinarians: an increasing number of women in the profession and a decreasing number of baby boomers.

"Female veterinarians average 4.6% fewer hours than men, partly because a greater share of women work part-time," the report stated. "The implications of the generation shift are less clear, but at least some millennials place a high value on work-life balance, and may thus prefer to work fewer hours than the baby boomers whom they are replacing."

The report went on to quote U.S. Labor Department statistics that estimated 69.8% of employed and self-employed veterinarians in 2022 were women, up from 56% in 2010. It suggested the trend will continue, as more than 80% of students in veterinary programs during the 2022-23 academic year identified as female.

What's causing more women to join the profession? The report maintained, citing research, that key drivers include "the lack of the residency requirement compared to human medicine, thus an easier path to employment than physicians, and more moderate, controllable working hours."

Those more moderate hours "make veterinary medicine an attractive career for women who continue to shoulder a disproportionate share of household chores," the report added.

The nonprofit Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI), in comments about the report dated April 15, countered that women don't choose to become veterinarians because they see an easier path to employment, "but because of our commitment to advancing animal health worldwide." And although the group agreed that many working women shoulder a disproportionate share of household chores, it bristled at any suggestion veterinary medicine is more attractive to women because they want more time for housework.

"We did not choose an 'easier' career in veterinary medicine, which involved eight or more years of challenging college education, because we wanted more time to follow our true passion for folding socks and vacuuming floors," said the online post, which is attributed to WVLDI's board of directors.

In a statement dated April 18 announcing that it had withdrawn the report from its website, the AAVMC responded that it recognizes "the critical role of women in advancing the veterinary medical profession worldwide," supports efforts to advance women's leadership and understands "the importance of supporting working parents and caregivers" in both their professional and personal lives.

"While this was an independent assessment, AAVMC takes full responsibility for the lack of inclusivity represented in the report," it said. "We have removed the report from our website pending further review by the authors."

Whether the review will affect the report's determinations on workforce needs is unclear, though it would seem unlikely, given the WVLDI said the focus of its concern isn't the accuracy of the report's projections but the "lens through which the authors discussed" the impacts of demographic shifts on veterinarian supply.

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

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