Study wrestles with food animal DVM shortage


Minneapolis — In the coming months, researchers plan to unveil national statistics designed to map supply and demand of DVMs within the food animal sector.

MINNEAPOLIS — In the coming months, researchers plan to unveil national statistics designed to map supply and demand of DVMs within the food animal sector.

Insiders predict the data's significance will rival that of the more broad-based 1999 KPMG Mega Study, which is credited for confirming the profession's lacking business prowess. Information gleaned from the $300,000 project, financed by the Food Supply Veterinary Medical Coalition (FSVMC), is slated for release in a series of the upcoming articles published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. While details are under wraps, study author David Andrus, PhD, insists that research resulting in 1,500-plus pages of trend analysis will amount to an unprecedented look at economics within the food animal veterinary profession. The data spans two years worth of Internet studies and focus groups designed to forecast labor market demands as well as career attraction and retention, says Andrus, a Kansas State University marketing head.

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"This is going to change the veterinary profession and make huge improvements in it," he says. "We've been real objective and found some interesting results. This will shake things up for the better."

Identifying a need

Despite lacking concrete information regarding dwindling food supply practitioner numbers, the profession's migration from rural practice isn't lost on veterinary leaders. Although allied professional memberships hold steady, college administrators reveal the majority of veterinary students track toward small animal practice with upwards of 80 percent reporting interests outside of livestock health. Federal officials, recognizing veterinary medicine's role in thwarting bioterrorism and emerging disease threats, now champion efforts to reverse the trend. In December, President Bush allocated $500,000 for the National Veterinary Medical Services Act, which provides educational reimbursement incentives for DVMs practicing in underserved areas. American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges leaders (AAVMC) long pushed the measure.

The groups, both FSVMC members, suggest Andrus' study "Estimating FSVM Demand and Maintaining the Availability of Veterinarians for Careers in Food Supply Related Disciplines in the United States and Canada" will lend credence to their efforts. At presstime, media strategies were being outlined to spread what supporters tout as "critical information."

"We hope this study will objectively identify those shortages and provide recommendations for the veterinary colleges to recruit and retain students who are interested in food systems veterinary medicine," says Dr. Larry Heider, AAVMC executive director.

Dr. Lyle Vogel, director of AVMA Scientific Activities, adds that he's eager to disseminate the report.

"This study will have a profound effect on veterinary medicine," he says.

Preliminary information

The upshot from the study remains to be seen. While FSVMC also involves the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and American Association of Swine Veterinarians, among others, AVMA is keeping a tight lid on study projections.

Yet preliminary numbers released in 2005 shed light on some early findings. According to the study's long-term estimates, the nation will endure a .6-percent DVM shortage in poultry medicine between 2010 and 2016. Concurrently, an 11-percent shortage will be felt in federal food safety while the beef sector ranks the most deficient at 6 percent (see DVM Newsmagazine's October 2005 article "Study maps demand directed at food animal DVMs.)

The study also reveals that while supply dwindles, demand is increased by zoonotic disease and bioterrorism concerns. Tight government budgets, lack of business skills and rising veterinary costs actually decrease demand, the study says.

Reeling in students

To counter the movement away from food animal practice, the study maps employment selection factors, revealing that the top five issues limiting DVM entry into food animal practice start with less emphasis within veterinary medical programs and little student exposure to food supply career options at the college level.

A lack of role models and food supply practice internships also hamper growth in the sector. Mentoring is key to attracting food animal veterinarians, the study adds.

"This report is 23 chapters, all talking about the supply and demand of food supply veterinary medicine," Andrus says. "We're going to be doing press announcements and going around making presentations. This information has real potential to turn things around for the profession."

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