Workforce study examining breadth and depth of profession

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A comprehensive study of shortages within the veterinary profession is under way at the National Academies.

"Assessing the current and future workforce needs in veterinary medicine" is an overall look at the demand for personnel in diverse sectors of the profession—both in private practice and beyond.

"There is a growing need for veterinarians to address public health issues, such as the emergence of zoonoses and the safety and security of food of animal origin," said Dr. Henry E. Childers, AVMA past president and a member of the study committee. "Veterinarians also play an important role in biomedical research."

Dr. Childers said recent reports from the National Academies—"National needs and priorities for veterinarians in biomedical research" in 2004 and "Critical needs for research in veterinary science" in 2005—provided evidence of shortages of veterinarians in sectors such as biomedical research and veterinary pathology.

"They also comment on the lack of data in other sectors and the need for analysis and an understanding of the veterinary workforce in general," Dr. Childers said.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges gathered some data about other sectors for the report "Veterinarians in population health and public practice: Meeting critical national needs" in 2003.

The 2003 report noted that federal agencies face shortages of veterinary staff. That year, the mean age of a veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service was 54. Half the veterinarians in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps were eligible for retirement. The Army Veterinary Corps required an additional 45 veterinarians annually to maintain its strength.

The AAVMC report also noted that 20 percent of veterinarians engage either in private practice with a substantial food animal component or in public practice focusing on population health. The report estimated that 500 veterinary graduates need to enter this overall area annually to meet demand.

The new, overarching workforce study from the National Academies follows from the more specific reports. The study committee includes members from academia and from clinical, regulatory, research, and administrative areas relevant to animal and public health. The chair is Dr. Alan M. Kelly, past dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Funding for the $608,000 study is primarily from the AAVMC and the AVMA. Other backers include Bayer Animal Health, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the American Animal Hospital Association.

Dr. Lawrence E. Heider, the AAVMC's outgoing executive director, said one hope is that the study will inform Congress of the importance of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act. The act would authorize a grants program to expand the infrastructure and enrollment of veterinary colleges.

"We know that there will be many questions about the need for increased capacity in our schools and an increased number of veterinarians for service to our country," Dr. Heider said.

Congress might pass the authorization bill before the workforce study is complete, but the final report will provide evidence to support appropriations for the program to expand colleges.

"Across veterinary medicine, all of the employment sectors are competing for scarce human resources today," Dr. Heider said.

Information about the workforce study is available by visiting, clicking on View Projects by Project Title, and finding "Assessing the current and future workforce needs in veterinary medicine." The site includes details about the study committee's membership and meetings.