Report sheds new light on veterinary employment

Findings range from wage implications of internships to veterinarians’ wish to work fewer hours
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Report cover: 2015 AVMA Report on Veterinary EmploymentHomeownership, board certification, and the first postgraduate job are better predictors of the probability of veterinary employment than gender, region of residence, educational debt, marital status, health, or alma mater, according to the 2015 AVMA Report on Veterinary Employment, published in March.

Veterinarians were more likely to be unemployed if their first job out of veterinary college wasn’t in a veterinary field, according to a 2014 AVMA survey of U.S. veterinarians.

Perhaps the most notable finding in the AVMA employment report was the higher probability of unemployment and lower income associated with veterinary graduates who participated in internships, compared with values for veterinarians who opted for full-time work after graduation.

The AVMA employment report is the second of six scheduled to be published this year by the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division examining veterinary markets. This latest study sought to determine the extent of unemployment in the veterinary profession and the difference between the number of hours veterinarians were willing to work and the number they actually were working.

Illustration graphicFindings were based on responses to a 2014 survey of 1,881 veterinarians who had graduated from one of the 28 U.S. veterinary colleges in 2012, 2008, 2003, or 1998.

Michael Dicks, PhD, director of the economics division, said the data shed new light on earlier AVMA research identifying a trend among new veterinary graduates to choose internships over full-time employment (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2013;243:976-980).

The new survey found that the percentage of graduates entering an internship varied by veterinary college and ranged from 56.7 percent of graduates from Western University of Health Sciences to 12.1 percent of graduates from Iowa State University.

“We need to take a very serious look at why so many students from specific colleges are participating in internships but don’t intend on becoming board-certified specialists,” said Dr. Dicks, adding the reasons may have less to do with competence than confidence. He said the 2014 survey results indicate that veterinarians who did not complete an internship perceived a higher level of preparedness in more of their clinical and nonclinical skills than veterinarians who did complete an internship.

The survey examined veterinarians’ perception of their own preparedness in nine areas of clinical competence, the same areas evaluated by the AVMA Council on Education during veterinary college accreditation. Little difference was found to exist among the perceptions of veterinarians from the various colleges about their degree of veterinary clinical preparation. Across the board, veterinarians perceived that they were adequately prepared except in the areas of orthopedic surgery, business acumen, management of reproduction programs, and interpretation of ultrasound images.

We need to take a very serious look at why so many students from specific colleges are participating in internships but don’t intend on becoming board-certified specialists.

Michael Dicks, PhD, director, AVMA Veterinary Economics Division

The 2015 AVMA report goes on to state that, while the national unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in 2013, the overall unemployment rate for the veterinary profession was just 3.19 percent. The highest rate of unemployment—4.2 percent—was experienced by 2008 graduates, whereas 2012 graduates saw the lowest rate of 2.9 percent.

The highest rate of unemployment for clinical practitioners occurred in equine practice (6.3 percent) and the lowest in companion animal–exclusive practice (3.2 percent). The highest rate of unemployment among all practice types was in the “other” category (14.7 percent), followed by the not-for-profit category (10.7 percent).

The AVMA report also found the profession was experiencing a net “negative underemployment” rate that would be balanced by 951 more full-time veterinarians in the workforce. Whereas underemployment represents the number of hours that veterinarians would want to work above their current workweek, negative underemployment signifies the number of hours by which they would wish to reduce their workweek.

Negative underemployment was highest among equine and food animal practitioners, whose typical workweek exceeded 60 hours.

“The results of this survey suggest that female and male veterinarians may have a different desired work/life balance,” the report states.

Most female respondents to the AVMA survey indicated a desire to reduce their workweek by 10 hours. Male respondents, however, were split almost equally, with some wishing to reduce their workweek by 10 hours and others wanting a 10-hour increase.

Employment infographic“On average, female veterinarians want to work 39 hours per week, whereas male veterinarians want to work an average of 47 hours per week. Female veterinarians work less on average and want to work less than their male counterparts,” the report continued.

“This may explain, at least in part, the difference in the level of average compensation between genders. More importantly, because the percentage of women in the profession is constantly increasing with each new class of veterinarians, the amount of services provided per year per veterinarian (veterinary productivity) will decline.”

Additionally, the survey found no meaningful difference among practice types with respect to veterinarians’ perceptions of their own health; however, the largest group of veterinarians reporting excellent health were those in the uniformed services, in which 50 percent reported being in excellent health. Veterinarians employed otherwise by the federal government represented the largest group reporting poor health, at 4.5 percent.

The 2015 AVMA Report on Veterinary Employment can be purchased as part of a series of six reports on the economics of veterinary medicine. The series price is $249 for AVMA members and $499 for nonmembers. Order it online from the AVMA Store. For more information, call 800-248-2862, ext. 6655.

Related JAVMA content:

Advanced education increasing in popularity but not as much salarywise (April 1, 2015) (April 1, 2015)

Market improving, but value of veterinary degree unclear (Dec. 15, 2014)

On the rise (July 1, 2013)

Service surplus (June 1, 2013)