Wednesday, August 28, 2013

STEM Glut Watch: Veterinarians

Thanks to @UnstableIsotope, I see that veterinarians are running into some supply/demand issues with respect to unemployment: 
There are way more veterinarians than there is work for them to do, according to a recent survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, as the nation's veterinary schools continue to crank out graduates. 
A report from the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates the supply exceeds the demand by the equivalent of 11,250 full-time vets. 
"There is a palpable tension," says Christopher Byers of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. "Right now, as a profession, we have so many veterinarians who are not being utilized to their full capacity. And now it is our job to figure out why that is and to come up with ways to rectify that." 
He says vets don't have high unemployment, but the underemployment is significant. More than half say their practices are not at full capacity owing to a variety of factors, including that the sour economy has led many to forgo pet ownership as well as preventive care. "There are a lot of veterinarians having big red flags go up in their head, questioning why we have more opportunities for veterinary training when the demand isn't there," Byers says.
In case you didn't know (I didn't), there are around 61,000 employed veterinarians in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Having a 17% surplus seems a bit high, but I'm no labor economist.

I think it is worth noting that veterinarians may not be the best source of unbiased information (i.e. they have their interests, too -- low unemployment, full offices, higher wages.) That said, I was rather amused to read the justifications from a veterinary school administrator:
So now, the schools are in a bind — tuition money on one side, market realities on the other. Dan Givens, an interim dean at Auburn University, says veterinary medicine is a calling that attracts people no matter the economics. And, he says, given public health threats, too much talent in the workforce has upsides. 
"If we had a new foreign animal disease come into the United States, the excess capacity would be a great blessing for us, because we would be prepared for this huge surge in need," Givens says.
I'm so pleased that our (expensive, unnecessary (?), ineffective) insurance policy for a new foreign animal disease is the wasted human capital represented by underemployed veterinarians. Yay.  


  1. It seems as though many fields that require a professional degree are experiencing oversupply issues. It's probably a side effect of institutions' need to squeeze every dollar out of their revenue streams… I mean students.

  2. remember though, it is only slightly oversupplied. You don't have the outsourcing and insourcing problems that chemistry has, which is way oversupplied.

  3. Tangential and anecdotal, from neighbor on recent plane ride, but vets are getting squeezed by lower margins on the drugs they sell. Used to be a source of relatively easy money for them.

  4. Interesting note on the meds. The vet office that we used in the past, while offering excellent care, became very focused on 'pain management' medications the last few years we were with them, regularly prescribing a variety of pain meds for older dogs. When I heard several people tell me that a very similar regimen of meds was being prescribed for their dogs, it made me take notice a bit. It was a fairly sudden, but noticeable shift in their focus of care, and our doc told me that he decided to shift some focus on easing the discomfort of companion animals as they age. Not sure if it was a new source of income, but it certainly seemed like it...

  5. Two more things: vet students are majority women and veterinary school is very, very expensive. At least with chemistry, you're getting paid.

    I hope there's a follow-up article explaining underemployment for vets. What do they do? Are there contract/part-time vets? I could see this with big practices.

  6. The Auburn interim dean's lame justification is complete BS. The excess of veterinarians is essentially in the small animal field. If there was a "new foreign animal disease", this would be most likely in production animals (swine, cattle, chicken). Small animal vets would have no utility whatsoever in helping with the situation, as their training in public health, epidemiology, or production animal care goes back to vet school and is therefore forgotten, obsolete or purely theoretical; they probably wouldn't even be called upon, as the current structures for dealing with exotic diseases are probably sufficient - and if they weren't, the need wouldn't be for more vets.
    Case in point: there has actually been an outbreak of a 'new foreign disease' that started this summer, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus introduced from Asia and which has spread quickly to many US states. I haven't seen armies of small animal vets being called up to fight the outbreak...

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