NAS veterinary workforce study nears release

Stakeholders expect report to shed light on supply and demand in America

Published: October 28, 2010
By Jennifer Fiala

A highly anticipated study designed to take a comprehensive look at the supply and demand of veterinarians in the United States is slated for completion next month after more than two years of delays.  

“Assessing the Current and Future Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine” was commissioned in 2006 and originally scheduled for release by fall 2008. According to insiders, the project hit unexpected snags when researchers with the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) learned that tracing veterinary workforce demographics presented unique challenges.

Unlike human health professions, little had been done to track America’s workforce of veterinarians, forcing researchers to start from scratch to determine where U.S. DVMs practice. The result? The study that initially was expected take 18 months to complete has been extended at least four times.

The NAS website reports that the study won’t be released to the public until next spring, though some within the veterinary profession anticipate that the report’s outcomes will be revealed in November.

Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) in Washington, has kept close tabs on the study’s evolution considering its potential to determine whether there is any oversaturation or true need for veterinarians in various regions of the United States.

Widespread anecdotal reports point to large pockets of the country where veterinarians practicing medicine on companion animals compete heavily for business while rural areas often suffer a lack of practitioners who care for large animals.

The AAVMC, along with the American Veterinary Medical Association, has funded much of the study’s $600,000-plus price tag. Additional contributions came from Bayer Animal Health, the American Animal Hospital Association and Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Part of the study's delay, Pappaioanou reports, is due to a lack of peer-reviewed research on the topic of veterinary workforce.

“The physician workforce or the dental workforce — there are hundreds of articles on that. But veterinary medicine has virtually none; there isn’t the funding for it,” she says.

Pappaioanou adds that collecting enough information to draw conclusions of magnitude has been an uphill battle for researchers. “They sent out a survey to a lot of veterinarians, and the veterinarians didn’t reply. So it’s been tough. The good news is that this is happening. A report has come together, and it’s under review.”

Robin Schoen, director of the NAS Board on Higher Education and Workforce, did not respond to a query from the VIN News Service to characterize the release process.

The 14-member committee charged with studying workforce issues as they pertain to veterinarians consists of a number of well-known names in the profession, including deans and other academicians as well as federal employees in areas relevant to animal and public health.

Economist Malcolm Getz, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University and one of few non-DVMs on the committee, reports that he and his colleagues signed confidentiality statements in reference to their work on the project. While Getz declined to speak with the VIN News Service, the committee’s chair, Dr. Allen Kelley, dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary medical program, could not be reached.

Stakeholders characterize the need for analysis and an understanding of the veterinary workforce in general as multifaceted. For years, anecdotal reports have spotlighted a lack of veterinary care in rural, underserved areas of the United States. The problem has led to the creation of a number of federal and state legislative attempts at attracting veterinarians to those areas in exchange for payment or forgiveness of a percentage of their educational debt. 

The AVMA reports that more than 17 states have passed legislation to create programs that provide some educational debt relief to veterinary school graduates who agree to pursue jobs in underserved areas, particularly in the field of food supply  medicine.

Additionally, the association recently announced teaming with its benevolent arm, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, on plans to dole out $500,000 in loan reimbursement grants to graduates who agree to practice food-animal medicine in areas of need. Five students each will receive $100,000 grants in exchange for a four-year commitment as part of the Food Animal Veterinarian Recruitment and Retention Pilot Program.

At the same time, a push for expanding federal Public Health Workforce Grants and Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Programs could be bolstered by numbers showing a true need for veterinarians in those professional areas.

The legislation, passed by the House of Representatives on Sept. 30, calls for amending the Public Health Services Act to add veterinary public health as a group eligible for training grants. Veterinarians studying public health also would be eligible for educational loan repayment.




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