New data-driven insights help you prepare for a strong future

December 1, 2020
Matthew Salois, PhD
Matthew Salois, PhD

Dr. Matthew Salois worked in private industry, government and academia before joining the AVMA in 2018 as director of veterinary economics. From 2016 to 2018, he served as director of global scientific affairs and policy at Elanco Animal Health, supervising a team of scientists in veterinary medicine, human medicine, animal welfare, economics and sustainability. Before joining Elanco, Dr. Salois was chief economist with the Florida Department of Citrus, where he led economic and market research activities to drive industry growth and profitability for citrus growers. He previously served as an assistant professor at the University of Reading in the U.K., and also has held positions with the University of Florida and University of Central Florida. Dr. Salois earned his PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida, and holds an MA in Applied Economics and a BS in Health Services Administration from the University of Central Florida.

dvm360, dvm360 December 2020, Volume 51, Issue 12

New insight illuminates the path veterinary practices should take to improve patient care, client satisfaction, and your bottom line in 2021 and beyond.

As 2020 inches toward a close, many of us are considering what the future might hold for the veterinary profession. The latest American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) economic research uncovers a detailed sketch of what we might expect—both in the upcoming year and over the next decade.

There’s good news in what we project: growing animal populations, rising salaries, and positive changes in client attitudes toward pets. The data serve as a practical roadmap for veterinary professionals and businesses to draw on. Use it as a foundation to base strategic and forward-thinking business decisions that will enhance your opportunities for success.

What the data show: An overview

Incorporating data from a wide range of sources, AVMA’s projections encompass these categories: veterinarian population, species focus, and average salary; livestock and pet populations; owner demographics; demand for veterinarians; and household view of pets as family. The insights are based on a new veterinary workforce model that allows us to make forecasts on the supply and demand of veterinarians and veterinary services.

Here are some key projections:

  • The number of active veterinarians in the U.S. is expected to exceed 123,000 by 2030, up from 116,000 in 2020.
  • The number of companion animal veterinarians is expected to increase substantially by 2030, and small increases are anticipated for food animal, equine, and mixed animal veterinarians.
  • The average starting salary for companion animal veterinarians is expected to rise from $88,000 in 2020 to $102,000 in 2030.
  • In the public sector, a net gain of veterinarians will be driven by more people working in higher education, industry/corporate, and nonprofit practice.
  • The US dog population is expected to increase from 85 million in 2020 to over 100 million by 2030.
  • The cat population is expected to grow from 65 million to over 82 million by 2030.
  • The proportion of US households owning a dog is expected to grow from 38% in 2020 to 45% by 2030.

Connecting the dots: Practical applications

While the research offers a basis to understand major trends and patterns, whether and how practitioners use this information is key to its real world value. First and foremost is understanding the practical implications of these insights. You can then harness that knowledge to implement new or improved programs and strategies to enhance patient care, build client relationships, and boost business success. Here are some examples.

Wellness visits for dogs

AVMA projections show the share of dogs receiving wellness exams has grown rapidly, from 78% in 2011 to 90% in 2016. That number is expected to grow more slowly through 2030, ultimately reaching 96% of dogs.

What it means: This gives us at least 2 pieces of really practical information. One, it tells us that most dogs are getting the preventive care they need to live long and healthy lives. This is excellent news! It shows that our efforts to educate pet owners about the value of regular veterinary care are having a real influence on the care their pets receive. It also tells us that wellness checks as an area of service represent only limited growth potential over the next decade, because a relatively high proportion of the dog population already receives them.

What you can do: Veterinarians who see a high proportion of dogs should be exploring other ways beyond wellness visits to provide value to patients and clients. This can take many forms. It could mean expanding telehealth offerings to make it easier for clients to get their dogs care when they need it most. Or perhaps it’s offering clients the convenience of purchasing products like food and medication directly from you, without having to hunt for them online. Knowing that wellness exams will remain a steady but mostly stagnant area of service should spur you to think of creative ways to meet the changing needs of patients and clients.

Wellness visits for cats

For cats, on the other hand, wellness visits are expected to continue growing through 2030, reaching nearly 80% (up from around 65%). This makes them an area where you may want to continue focusing for your feline patients. If you don’t already see a large number of cats, this could be a possible growth area. The AVMA has a market share estimator that can help. It’s available with a range of other business tools at avma.org/StayCompetitive.

Client communication

Visibility into changing household demographics and attitudes provides important insight into our current and potential client populations. Data show that most Americans consider their pets to be family members, and that this trend will continue. For dogs this number is expected to rise to nearly 96% by 2030 (from 86%) and for cats to 84% (from 80%).

What it means: Our clients love and cherish their animals. This positive change in owners’ relationships with their pets could imply an increase in the demand for pet health care.

What you can do: Understand the characteristics of the households in your area, and use the knowledge to inform your marketing and communication strategies. How clients view their pets is 1 piece of the equation.

Use this information—available on a state-by-state basis—to home in on what your clients need and value most and make sure that you, as the veterinarian, are doing everything you can to meet those needs. Every interaction we have, whether on social media or face-to-face with clients in the exam room, is an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships. Understanding client priorities and attitudes is the first step in addressing them.

A deeper dive: Explore the data online

You can dig deeper into these data via an interactive dashboard on the AVMA website. View nationwide industry trends, and drill down to your specific location, practice type, and areas of interest to discover the information most pertinent to you. The projections may change over time based on the latest research, new economic trends, or other variables. AVMA’s ongoing research about and for the profession will help us keep the dashboard updated, so you can return to it over and over as an accurate and practical business tool. Whether you’re an individual practitioner, large hospital, small nonprofit, or even a national association like the AVMA, these data helps us all plan for a strong and sustainable veterinary future.

Dr. Matthew Salois worked in private industry, government and academia before joining the AVMA in 2018 as director of veterinary economics. From 2016 to 2018, he served as director of global scientific affairs and policy at Elanco Animal Health, supervising a team of scientists in veterinary medicine, human medicine, animal welfare, economics and sustainability. Before joining Elanco, Dr. Salois was chief economist with the Florida Department of Citrus, where he led economic and market research activities to drive industry growth and profitability for citrus growers. He previously served as an assistant professor at the University of Reading in the U.K., and also has held positions with the University of Florida and University of Central Florida. Dr. Salois earned his PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida, and holds an MA in Applied Economics and a BS in Health Services Administration from the University of Central Florida.

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