Practitioners need a break: When more veterinarians want to work less

Published on November 29, 2017
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In 2016, most veterinarians were content with the number of hours they worked on a weekly basis, reports the 2017 AVMA Report on the Market for Veterinarians, but nearly a fifth indicated they wanted to cut back on the number of hours they currently work. The report, which drew from responses to the AVMA 2016 Census Survey, found that last year, there were more veterinarians wanting to work fewer hours for less pay than there were wanting to extend their workweek for more pay.

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 In examining work hour preference, the report's analysts found that respondents in advanced education and mixed animal practice, followed by food animal–exclusive practice, had the highest percentages of those who expressed a desire to work fewer hours for less compensation. Equine practitioners had the highest percentage of respondents who wanted to work more hours. "The effect of practice type, though significant, is only one factor that contributes to the variation in hours desired," observed Bridgette Bain, PhD, assistant director of analytics in the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, which produced the report.  

When a greater number of hours is associated with practitioners wanting to reduce the time they spend working each week than is associated with respondents desiring to increase the time spent working, the net difference is referred to as negative underemployment. "This difference represents a void to be filled. In this case, nearly 3,400 additional veterinarians would be needed on a full-time basis to take up the slack," Dr. Bain explained.

"This level of negative underemployment, which exceeds that reported in 2015, which in turn was greater than the year prior, is actually an indicator of an increasingly robust market for veterinarians."

Because veterinary labor is generally "indivisible" (available only in 40- to 50-hour chunks of time), Dr. Bain said, the handful of hours distributed across practice types throughout the country that constitute underemployment are unlikely to entice a veterinarian, who would have to work a modest number of hours at multiple practices.

"Still," she insisted, "the net difference is an encouraging sign for the market indicating that the demand for veterinarian services is growing faster than the supply of veterinarians."

All economic reports are available at for free download by AVMA members or for purchase by others as a series.

Barbara Dutton is the economics writer/content coordinator for the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division.