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December 15, 2020

Veterinary labor demand remains strong during COVID

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The U.S. market for veterinary labor remains robust despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the national unemployment rate reached nearly 15% this April and May, the veterinary profession actually saw a slight drop in its unemployment numbers, from 0.8% in 2019 to 0.7% in 2020.

“The veterinary profession was somewhat untouched by the pandemic,” observed Charlotte Hansen, assistant director of statistical analysis for the AVMA, during her presentation at the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28.

“We hear anecdotes of employers being busier than ever, and they can’t find employees to hire, and the AVMA Veterinary Career Center also backs that up,” Hansen said. “In the most recent months, we have had a higher number of jobs posted than in 2019, and the unemployment rate from our census of veterinarians is no different.”

Chart slide: Jobs Applicants (Supply) and Available Jobs (Demand), 2020 - Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and AVMA Veterinary Career Center (VCC)
There are five applicants for every one job opening in the U.S. Yet as this chart shows, demand for veterinary labor exceeds the current supply of veterinarians. (Enlarge)

The true rate of unemployment among veterinarians represents those seeking employment who cannot find it, Hansen explained. Data also show a decline in those enrolling in advanced education and those not seeking employment at all.

A second indicator of a strong veterinary labor market is the ratio of supply to demand. Compared with the national average of approximately five applicants for every one job, AVMA Veterinary Career Center figures show there are more jobs for veterinarians than there are veterinarians to fill them.

Veterinarian income also increased in 2020, with the professionwide mean income climbing to approximately $120,000. “We also see variation across different practice types,” Hansen said. “Let’s look at food animal exclusive for 2020.” The mean income was $104,000, and most veterinarians reported having income between $60,000 and $150,000.

On average, food animal and companion animal practitioners tend to have higher salaries than those in other types of private practice, Hansen said. In public practice, individuals in industry or working for commercial organizations and as consultants, on average, have higher salaries.

Regarding the demographics of the veterinary profession, Hansen said the average age is 46 years old, and the profession is approaching 70% female. In terms of ethnicity, 4% of veterinarians identify as being of Hispanic or Latino origin. As for race, 92% of the profession is white, while the remaining 8% is minority, including multiracial (4%), Asian (3%), and Black (1%).

“Look in a mirror,” Hansen said. “Our profession does not mimic our population. It is critical that we have a diverse profession to bring it to challenge ideas and ask new questions.”