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Demographics steer future of profession

Article

Thanks to a maturing and affluent society, veterinarians can expect a "phenomenally positive" and prosperous future, a futurist told the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) delegation at the 70th annual convention.

Thanks to a maturing and affluent society, veterinarians can expect a "phenomenally positive" and prosperous future, a futurist told the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) delegation at the 70th annual convention.

"The predication is that we have to have affluence," says LowellCatlett, Ph.D., an economist at New Mexico State University. "In theUnited States, western Europe and developed nations, we are affluent tothe point we can afford things above the basics of life."

As people amass excess income in any culture, they tend to procreateless, according to Catlett. Consequently, he adds, the trend is to substitutewith entertainment and pets.

The most recent statistics from AAHA affirm: two-thirds of householdsin the U.S. have pets; one-third have children. "We've switched fromthe majority of the households having children to the majority having pets,"says Catlett.

Old money

That majority also happens to be pushing retirement.

"We're an aging society, we're not a youth-driven culture. We'vereached that cusp where we are living longer and healthier. As we startaging, those pets become even more valuable to us," Catlett explains.

He predicts the senior citizen demographic and their senior pets willbecome the veterinarians' proverbial cash cows of the future. As baby boomerspress toward retirement, an influx of elderly clientele will be willingto pay premium dollar for the longevity of their pets.

"What we'll demand from the veterinary profession is that they startdifferentiating and specializing even more in every capacity just like humanmedicine has done," says Catlett.

"Prior to WWII, people were just trying to live. As we started livinglonger and got more money, medicine started differentiating into specializations,"he adds.

But that will never eliminate the integral role of the general practitioner."The main point is we're going to demand more goods and services fromveterinarians overall," he says.

Know the customer

The veterinarians who will prosper in tomorrow's economy will be acutelyaware of the changing demographic of the customer. Today, one in 10 Americansare non-native born. The predominant labor force is from females and willbe for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, Catlett notes a trend where more young people, especiallyeducated females, are choosing to live downtown in what he calls "yogurtclusters." These are defined as groups of individuals living and workingclose together in an urban or suburban community. For example, in certainregions, females are opting to live in apartments above a dry cleaner orrestaurant like they did 100 years ago, because they are seeking a communalenvironment.

"The veterinarians need to understand the demographic base in whichthey're operating," says Catlett.

Marketing strategy

To prepare, Catlett suggests that veterinarians draw up a "circleof business" similar to what retailers and supermarkets do across thecountry.

They visit an area and determine their circle of business, or trade area,by understanding the demographics of that area, and stock shelves accordingly.Likewise, if a veterinarian knows the community, he or she can provide servicestailored to those customers.

"Find out what kind of pets people have in those areas, what theirlifestyles are, what their ethnicity is and that will determine in largepart what kind of pets they will service," says Catlett.

Gone digital

Just decades away, practices and pets will likely be totally digitizedand wireless accessible.

Remote sensing technologies combining the guts of a cell telephone willallow tomorrow's veterinary clinic to monitor pets by intelligent default.A tiny monitor in the dog or cat will gather pertinent information and frequentlye-mail the veterinary clinic's computer with the data.

"This will allow the veterinarian of the future to certainly monitorthe health of every dog and cat via central computer 24 hours a day,"says Catlett.

Remote sensing and monitoring of animals will likely far exceed thatof human medicine, because of the ethics and attitude of humans toward invasionof privacy.

Weak spot

The principal strength of veterinarians of tomorrow remains their greatestweakness - they're "too nice" and don't charge what they're worth.

"Veterinarians are consistently the most honored and admired professionconsistently throughout the world," says Catlett.

"The weakness in the profession is not charging us crazy pet ownersfor things we'd be willing to pay," says Catlett. "They're goingto continue to have a tough time (financially) as long as they remain suchdamn nice people."

Outscoring human medicine

In some cases veterinary medicine will advance beyond human medicine,especially in the field of nutrition.

"We still like to drink beer and eat brownies even though we knowit's bad for us. Meanwhile we'll give a balanced diet to the dog,"says Catlett.

"There's no question that for 30 years, thanks to veterinary careand advances in animal husbandry that animal nutrition is far ahead of humannutrition by a country mile," he says.

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