Market for veterinarians still going strong

Published on November 28, 2018
Charlotte Hansen
There are currently more employment opportunities than job applicants, says Charlotte Hansen with the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, according to data from the AVMA Veterinary Career Center.

The market for veterinarians remains robust for a third straight year, according to Charlotte Hansen, a statistical analyst with the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division.

All indicators for the veterinary labor market are favorable, said Hansen, who presented on the second day of the 2018 AVMA Economic Summit, held Oct. 22-23 in Rosemont, Illinois. "We see increases in (veterinary) salaries, veterinary unemployment is below the national level, … and we have more jobs than there are applicants applying for those positions," she explained.

"We have negative underemployment, where there are more veterinarians wanting to work fewer hours for less compensation than there are veterinarians wanting to work more hours for more compensation," said Hansen, adding that well-being in the profession is generally good.

Prior to Hansen's presentation, Frederic Ouedraogo, PhD, highlighted the growing demand for specialty and emergency and critical care veterinary services. Demand for production animal and wildlife veterinary services is beginning to decline, however. Dr. Ouedraogo, an assistant director in the AVMA's economic division, described the market for veterinary services as consolidating and trending toward larger practices.

Excess capacity remains a substantial challenge for veterinary practices, he said. Excess capacity describes a practice that, for a number of reasons, including failure to fully use examination rooms or veterinary technicians, is producing less than it potentially could. Just over half of all private veterinary practices are characterized by excess capacity, explained Dr. Ouedraogo.

Chart: AVMA Veterinary Career Center seasonally adjusted monthly number of jobs and applicants - Source: AVMA VCC
In recent years, the supply of jobs has begun to outnumber applicants available for veterinary employment opportunities for the first time since before the Great Recession. New graduate starting salaries have hit an all-time–high real income level, and a record number of new graduates are finding full-time employment prior to graduation.

In 2017, there was a drop in the number of job applicants applying through the VCC website. This is because AVMA Veterinary Career Center jobs were no longer being posted on another search engine, which would direct the applicant to the VCC website, but the overall story remains that there are more employment opportunities than job applicants.

In her presentation, Hansen talked about the net present value of a veterinary degree compared with a bachelor's degree, with net present value representing the present value of the costs and benefits associated with earning a degree. Overall, both men and women earn more with a veterinary degree than those who only obtain a bachelor's degree.

"Female veterinarians, on average, earn $600,000 in today's dollars over their lifetime more than they would have had they stopped at a bachelor's degree, while men with a DVM, on average, earn around $200,000 more than if they had just taken a bachelor's degree," Hansen said.

Starting salaries for male and female veterinarians continue to climb, said Hansen (see story).

While the national unemployment rate in October was 3.7 percent, only 1.6 percent of surveyed veterinarians reported they were actively seeking work, according to Hansen. In addition, Hansen said more than 6,200 full-time–equivalent veterinarians are needed to satisfy the work hour preferences reported by practitioners.

According to data from the AVMA Veterinary Career Center, the number of job openings for the past year has outpaced the number of applicants. "This is good for veterinarians seeking jobs, but less so for owners of veterinary businesses and consumers of veterinary services," said Hansen.

The final market indicator the AVMA looked at was well-being. As Hansen explained, the AVMA used the Professional Quality of Life Tool to measure well-being among some 4,000 veterinarians in the following areas: compassion satisfaction—that is, the pleasure derived from work—burnout, and secondary managed stress, which includes fear and work-related trauma.

"Overall, veterinarians are in the average range across all professions for well-being," she noted.