Don't mess with Texas


Dallas - Far from television characterizations as a city filled with cowboy hats, bolero ties and society debutantes, the reality is that the Dallas area is economically strong, with a thriving job market and stable housing.

Dallas — Far from television characterizations as a city filled with cowboy hats, bolero ties and society debutantes, the reality is that the Dallas area is economically strong, with a thriving job market and stable housing.

Lone-star surge: Practices are busy, but still adjusting to the Metroplex boom. "We know there is more demand, and if we expanded further, we could keep ourselves busy," says Joanne Franks, crediting living costs as a factor in growth.

Ranked second in numerical growth according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metroplex is home to a veterinary-profession environment that provides plenty of jobs — with specialists particularly in short supply — and elevated client-care expectations.

Two once-separate downtown areas have merged gradually to become the Metroplex, a 12-county, 634-square-mile sector that maintains a big-city urban personality while encompassing growing suburbs that add a rural appeal.

The region attracted 842,000 new residents from April 2000 to July 2006, bringing its total population to just more than 6 million, second only to Metro Atlanta, which gained 890,000 new residents in that period.

Dallas Darwinism: "Most clinics are short on staff and on the lookout for good help. But some are stronger and more stable than others," says Rosemary Lindsey, a DVM for almost 30 years.

Along with the population boom, veterinary medicine throughout the Metroplex — which holds about one-fourth of the Texas population of almost 24 million residents — has changed in ways that complement and challenge the profession.

Better care

Practitioners across the Metroplex concur: The most common impact to the profession is greater client-care expectations.

"Clients are looking for a more sophisticated brand of medicine than before, with the advent of Animal Planet, Emergency Vets, the Internet and those sorts of tools. They understand the sophistication of veterinary medicine and are not so surprised by the kind of care we can offer," says Rosemary Lindsey, a small-animal DVM in Richland Hills, Texas, ABVP diplomate and Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) board member.

Changing family demographics also drive client expectations, she says. "There are smaller families with fewer children and many are looking at pets as their children. They want the same kind of care they can get for their kids for their pets."

More clients are seeking the care of referral practices and specialists and seem to be following through on critical care recommendations, says John Vandermeer, DVM with Highland Park Animal Hospital in Dallas and president of the Dallas County Veterinary Medical Association.

"Our clients are more knowledgeable. Owners talk with each other, and there is an availability of knowledge through the Internet. People are more aware of what we as veterinarians are able to do and accomplish and people want these services," he says.

Demand continues to push the service quality and financial success of the profession, says Jed Ford, North Richland Hills DVM and TVMA board member. "With increased demand, it will fall upon us to get over our unwillingness to charge for what we are worth and charge appropriately for more excellent veterinary medicine. I think the public will be willing to pay since their expectations are greater."

Job-market surge

Partnered with increased client demand is a heightened need for veterinarians and trained specialists.

One-and two-person clinics are outdated and being replaced with larger, multiple-doctor hospitals, relief veterinary services and corporate veterinary medicine facilities that create great demand for new DVMs, Ford says.

"This makes it kind of hard for those of us who are trying to hire them, but good for those who are looking for jobs, or new graduates. Overall, I think this is good for the profession as well," he says.

Part of a nine-surgeon specialty practice, Joanne Franks, DVM with the Dallas Veterinary Surgical Center, says client demand continues to drive clinic growth and high-level care quality.

"More and more people are seeking specialist care than ever before," she says, creating a constant need to recruit new specialists.

And clinic competition — in both service quality and recruiting efforts — can be fierce.

"There is a growth in competition. Very few practices are closing, more are opening and there is a real suburban growth boom. As the suburbs continue to stretch, more clinics are popping up," Lindsey says.

Mansfield, a suburb south of Arlington, had three practices in the late 1990s. It now boasts about 10, she says, representing a growth trend seen through many of the Metroplex suburbs.

Despite Lindsey's characerization of an "excellent job market," the Metroplex — which grew 14 percent, just above the state's overall population growth of almost 13 percent, from 2000 to 2006 — shares the same shortage problems as most states across the country.

Large-animal veterinarians, registered technicians and some specialties — especially oncology and cardiology, says Franks — are in short supply.

Demographic shift

The population surge also changes community demographics, in turn altering the professional landscape.

But the growth boom and greater care expectations are not the standard in all areas of the Metroplex. Some pockets around downtown Dallas that once were thriving communities have lost residents and declined in safety and neighborhood quality.

"When we started 35 years ago, our practice was in an upper-middle-class area, and then our demographics began to go downhill," says Kenneth Cantrell, DVM at East Dallas Veterinary Clinic near the intersection of Ferguson Road and Lakeland Drive.

"We are in an older part of the city, and I think there are certainly some demographic changes that have affected veterinary medicine. Most clients can't afford, or choose not to do, some of the higher-end services," he says of his now radically diverse neighborhood, which includes a large Hispanic population.

But despite a decrease in what clients are willing or able to spend, Cantrell's clinic continues to progress and offer sophisticated services to those willing and able to provide them for their pets, he says. And, with the help of neighborhood coalitions, many conditions are improving.

Metroplex round-up

Overall, in step with the growing population, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area offers many opportunities for practitioners.

"It is an exciting time to be a veterinarian in this part of the world," Lindsey says. "You can practice the medicine you were taught to practice and can do for your clients what you have always wanted to do."

The Metroplex should continue attracting new residents because of its versatility and economic strengths in a time of overall recession, Cantrell believes.

"We are a state that doesn't have an income tax, and we have a good overall climate. We have a lot of industries here. We're not reliant on one particular industry, which is why I think there has been steady growth," he says.

"We have a good, knowledgeable, basically non-union workforce. It's a really good business climate in North Texas."

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