What Gen Z veterinarians will face
The latest generation, born after 1997 and graduating veterinary school in a few years, will have some things in common with millennials (who lived through a recession). Here are the major issues theyre likely to face based on todays economy.
For the past decade, millennials have been the hot topic. But as Generation Z (born after 1995) starts to join the workforce, we'll likely see the spotlight shift onto ways this group will affect the future. But of course, because I'm a personal finance professional, I want to analyze the way Gen Z veterinarians' views on money could change the veterinary profession in the years to come.
Generational characteristics are stereotypes
To start off, let's just remember that generation classifications are meant to be vastly generalized groupings of an extremely wide variety of individuals. The idea is that if all the culture, environmental factors and events of a 15-year period were blended together, the product might potentially have this set of characteristics. As a millennial myself, there are certain stereotypes I can relate to, but there are others that don't describe me at all. So just keep in mind that generations are a simplification of a group of people, which speaks more to the culture of our country during that time than it does to the individuals who make up the group. That said, let's think about how Gen Z's money issues might affect the economy and the veterinary industry.
It's (all) about the student debt
Two things millennials and Gen Z have in common are, first, that attending college after high school is more common than in past generations and, second, the cost of college and the resulting student debt is higher. College graduates are forced to delay major life events in favor of gaining some financial security. Buying a house, getting married, having children and starting a business have been pushed back as student loan debt increases. Historically low numbers of young veterinarians are considering practice ownership and instead are working as associates for independently owned and corporate-owned veterinary clinics. When graduating with several hundred thousand dollars of student loan debt, Gen Z veterinarians may be afraid to take on additional debt to buy a practice. The need for a reliable and consistent paycheck is vital.
Gen Z will see corporate-owned chains continue to grow
The trend over the past decade has been that privately owned practices are declining in number and that corporate clinics are increasing. As Gen Z enters the market, I don't see a change coming in the near future. The cost associated with opening a new practice or operating an existing practice has made it difficult to compete with large corporations. As Americans are willing to spend more money on care for pets, the need for high-dollar equipment in a clinic is increasing. In 2018, Americans spent more than $75 billion on pets, compared to about $25 billion in 2000. We treat pets like family, so pet owners are willing to go to great lengths to ensure their pet's well-being. This means modern clinics must be outfitted with lab equipment, digital radiology, surgical equipment and other technologies that in the past were reserved only for emergency or specialty clinics. Investments like these are easiest made by large corporate owners, something we've seen in human medicine.
Lifestyle will continue to be a concern
Another factor outside of money is lifestyle. Current veterinary classes on average are made up of 80% women, which is a major contrast to the baby boomers and Gen X. Dual-income households are more and more common, so it could be difficult for younger veterinarians to dedicate the time and energy required to build a new practice while trying to start a family with a spouse who also works full-time. Also, with more female vets, healthcare and maternity leave are of great importance to those wanting to start a family. It's a strain on small private practices to offer the same benefits as large corporate practices do.
I'm not trying to say that all large corporations are evil or that independently owned private practices are doomed, but it's important to understand the circumstances driving these trends and how the current trajectory is likely to change in the next generation. I find the influx of investor money into the market to be encouraging, as this shows a strong demand for high-quality veterinary care. I think that Generation Z is well on its way to filling the need of tomorrow's pet owner, and it'll be interesting to see the evolution as these new DVMs begin to influence the veterinary industry.
Stephen Brinker is a consultant at Kalibr, a financial consulting firm in St. Louis, Missouri. In Stephen's spare time, he hunts, cycles, watches hockey and spends time with his wife (a veterinarian) and pets.