The size of the nation’s active veterinary workforce in 2019 was approximately 116,000 members, of whom 63% were female, marking a 12% increase in women veterinarians over the past decade.
“From these statistics, along with what we know about gender distribution of new DVM graduates and veterinary college students, it’s clear that we have a profession that is a majority female and will remain so for the next several decades,” said Frederic Ouedraogo, PhD, AVMA assistant director of economics.
These findings were among the latest information about the U.S. market for veterinary services that Dr. Ouedraogo shared at the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28. His talk also covered trends in the veterinary workforce, the number of veterinary practices in the U.S., and how clinics have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. veterinary workforce comprises five generations—the silent generation (1928-45), baby boomers (1945-64), Generation X (1965-80), millennials (1981-96) and Generation Z (1997-2012)—making it one of the nation’s most generationally diverse professions.
The percentage of the veterinary workforce under the age of 50 declined from about 61% in 2007 to 58% in 2019. At the same time, the proportion of the workforce over 65 increased from about 4% to 9%.
It’s important that we start as a profession to think about ways to promote and encourage ownership. One way to do that is to include business management or startup finance classes in our curriculum. Another way is to advocate for government support to new DVM graduates who want to start a new business. It can be similar to the loan repayment program or any other incentives.
Frederic Ouedraogo, AVMA assistant director of economics
“The question,” Dr. Ouedraogo said, “is do we have a sustainable replacement plan? By that, I mean do we have enough workers to continuously meet the national demand as our seniors retire from the workforce?”
Another trend Dr. Ouedraogo highlighted is the decline in the percentage of private practitioners who are owners, from 43% in 2007 to 33% in 2019. Practice ownership or co-ownership is associated with several benefits, including higher lifetime earnings and improved work-life balance, he noted.
“It’s important that we start as a profession to think about ways to promote and encourage ownership,” Dr. Ouedraogo said. “One way to do that is to include business management or startup finance classes in our curriculum. Another way is to advocate for government support to new DVM graduates who want to start a new business. It can be similar to the loan repayment program or any other incentives.”
Men currently make up the majority of private practice owners, but Dr. Ouedraogo said the percentage of women owners is increasing, shifting from 29% in 2007 to 41% in 2019. By 2028, the majority of U.S. practice owners will be women, he said.
More than 3,000 new veterinary practices opened between 2005-17, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, while the total number of practices was estimated to be around 32,000 in 2019. The share of small- and medium-size practices is declining, while the percentage of large practices—those with 10 or more employees—is trending up. As Dr. Ouedraogo explained, 41% of veterinary practices were large practices in 2009. By 2017, that had increased to 44%. During that same period, the share of practices with fewer than 10 employees dropped from 59% to 56%.
Approximately 77% of U.S. veterinary practices were corporate owned in 2019. The figure is based on how a practice is recorded on the Internal Revenue Service tax form.
Dr. Ouedraogo explained later that this categorization is different from what most people think of when referring to corporate veterinary practices. In fact, the term “corporations” in the veterinary profession traditionally refers to large groups such as consolidators and national group practices, including Banfield, VCA, VetCor, National Veterinary Associates, Southern Veterinary Partners, and Pathway Vet Alliance. These large groups currently represent less than 25% of all practices in the U.S.
The largest proportion of veterinary practices in the U.S. are S corporations, according to the Census Bureau. These corporations can have up to 100 shareholders, with each shareholder paying taxes only on profits received.
In his presentation, Dr. Ouedraogo cited data from the Implan Group showing U.S. veterinary services to be a $33 billion market representing less than 2% of the national GDP. Despite that small percentage, veterinary services “remain a vital component of our economy. The veterinary sectors, of course, include the livestock and dairy industries, pharmaceutical companies, and many more,” he said.
Dr. Ouedraogo concluded his presentation with a summary of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. veterinary practices. The data come from a survey the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division conducted between April and May that estimated the change in productivity from before to during the pandemic in the following areas: patients per examination room, patients per full-time employee, and patients per day.
The highest drop in productivity occurred in veterinary partnerships, which experienced a decline of more than 50% in all three areas. “In other words, partnerships were not able to reach half of their typical production,” Dr. Ouedraogo said. “Individual proprietorships were also hard hit. Corporate-owned practices, on the other hand, reported the lowest variation in room and staff productivity.”
Practices in urban areas were the most impacted by the pandemic. For instance, the number of patients per medical staff member for urban practices was reduced by nearly half. For rural and suburban practices, the decline was around 44%.
Additionally, patients per examination room fell by 47% in urban practices, 46% in rural practices, and 44% in suburban practices. The number of patients per day dropped 46% in urban practices and 42% in suburban ones.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article did not provide greater context around how corporate practices are categorized.