Workforce study authors discuss unmet needs

Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

Authors of the National Research Council’s report for the National Academy of Sciences on “Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine” provided details about unmet needs in public practice, academia, and industry Aug. 5 during the AVMA Annual Convention in San Diego.

Dr. Cockerell
Dr. Gary L. Cockerell speaks about corporate practice’s struggles and ways to attract specialized veterinarians.(Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Dr. Bonnie J. Buntain, former chief public health veterinarian of the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, expounded on one of the report’s recommendations that urges state and federal governments to reexamine their policies on remuneration, recruitment, and retention of veterinarians.

Dr. Buntain pointed to the Veterinary Medical Officer Talent Management Advisory Council as a positive step the federal government is taking to address this recommendation. The council, which was formed in summer 2010, is tasked with identifying the current and future needs of the federal veterinary workforce and ways the federal government can better meet those needs. It is also tasked with creating an outreach plan to involve the entire veterinary community, including state and local governments, academia, and veterinary organizations.

Dr. Buntain said the council is moving forward on a strategic workforce plan for veterinarians in federal government and has already identified core competencies and skills required of the veterinary workforce in federal agencies.

Drs. Sheila W. Allen, dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and Gay Y. Miller, professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, talked about the potential for a serious shortage of veterinary faculty members.

The total current U.S. veterinary faculty is slightly fewer than 4,000 individuals. The NRC report projects a 14 percent increase in the number of students from 2007-2016 and an 18 percent growth in faculty during that same time.

However, Dr. Miller said, the pipeline of veterinary educators appears inadequate for a number of reasons. These include the decreasing availability of stipends, growing student debt, and unpredictable research funding streams.

Veterinary colleges may need to consider alternatives, such as taking on faculty who have not come from residency training programs. On the one hand, these veterinarians would be cost-effective, be easier to recruit, and have practice-ready skills. On the other hand, Dr. Allen said, doing so would not foster advancement of clinical research.

Other options could include sharing faculty among veterinary colleges and enticing residents with an agreement that they would be hired on as faculty after finishing their program.

Finally, Dr. Gary L. Cockerell, president and founder of Cockerell Alliances, spoke about the need for veterinarians in corporate practice. According to a survey of industry conducted by the NRC committee, respondents indicated 15.7 percent of currently employed industry veterinarians would be 65 or older by 2016. Those future openings will only add to the numerous positions currently open within industry.

The NRC study also found that 70 percent of anticipated open positions from 2008-2016 would require certification beyond a DVM/VMD degree.

Dr. Cockerell touted the Coalition for Veterinary Pathology Fellows created by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists and the Society of Toxicologic Pathology for helping fill positions within corporate practice for the past few years.

Created in 2005, “The coalition provides a unified mechanism for the ACVP and STP to solicit and allocate funds to establish new training positions in response to the current and continued future shortage of well-trained veterinary anatomic and clinical pathologists,” he explained.

Financial commitments, primarily from corporations, have increased from $1.1 million in 2005 to $6.8 million in 2011. As a result, 17 anatomic pathology, three clinical pathology, and nine post-DVM residencies were funded just this past year.

Dr. Cockerell said he hopes the coalition will serve as a model for other veterinary fields.