February 25, 2013

An Oversupply of Veterinarians — But Not Here

Just as law schools are cranking out more lawyers than the market can absorb, the same thing is happening with veterinarians, says the New York Times.
They don’t teach much at veterinary school about bears, particularly the figurative kind, although debt as large and scary as any grizzly shadows most vet school grads, usually for decades. Nor is there much in the curriculum about the prospects for graduates or the current state of the profession. Neither, say many professors and doctors, looks very promising. The problem is a boom in supply (that is, vets) and a decline in demand (namely, veterinary services). Class sizes have been rising at nearly every school, in some cases by as much as 20 percent in recent years. And the cost of vet school has far outpaced the rate of inflation. It has risen to a median of $63,000 a year for out-of-state tuition, fees and living expenses, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, up 35 percent in the last decade. 
Reporter David Segal did not mention a recent case of a Georgia veterinarian who euthanized her dogs and herself — some people speculated that money troubles drove her to it.

As with law schools, however, vet schools are increasing:
Four more vet schools, both public and private, are either in the planning phases or under construction, one in New York, two in Arizona and one in Tennessee. If all are ultimately built, there will be thousands of additional D.V.M.’s on the market in coming years.
Not only an over-supply in vets, but fewer patients, particularly horses:
That belief has been tested. Not only are there fewer dogs — from 2006 to 2011, the number of dogs in the country dropped for the first time, albeit slightly, to 70 million from 72 million, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association Sourcebook survey — but the amount owners paid to vets fell, too. Owners reported they spent about $20 less a year in inflation-adjusted terms in that five-year span. 

The declines are more significant when it comes to cats. About 36.1 million households owned at least one cat in 2011, down 6 percent from 2006. During that period, the number of cat visits to the vet declined 13.5 percent. In the business, this is known as “the cat problem.” 

The horse market has suffered the most. Pet horses are expensive, and the market for them since the start of the recession has been crushed. Thoroughbred racing, meanwhile, has been hurt by the expansion of casinos, reducing the number of horses in need of veterinary care.
Considering that the nearest veterinary clinic to me is 25 miles away, I keep wondering why no one has opened a practice in Nearby Town, which is only 15 miles.  A ten-mile radius ought to offer a population of  . . . 6,000? Enough to support a vet who can do large/small animal work?  Or does no one want to be a generalist anymore?


Diana said...

Generalists, not so much. Students are expected to pick a specialty (large/small), and very little of the "other" discipline is available. Sometimes a clinic will do both, but nowadays your big animal vet probably can't actually do small animal doctoring short of shots,etc. My horsey vets are unusual in that they do pretty much all big animals, including at least some of the exotics.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Specialists, yes. I could see someone in a big city deciding to specialize in birds, for example.

But twenty years ago (!) I had a vet who would doctor my cat and dog and then go do ranch work. He always looked as though he could stun a steer with a single blow of his fist.

Maybe they don't make those guys anymore. Instead, a bunch of "strip mall vets" all competing for the small-animal trade?

Ruth said...

From what I understand, and my understanding is limited I'll admit. They don't teach generalization the same way any more, and when you add in the cost of vet school, apparently alot of them can't make enough in a smaller setting like that.


Anonymous said...

One thing I've heard is that about 75% of veterinary school graduates are women, and relatively few women veterinarians want to work on large animals.


Janeen said...

Large/small animal vets are fairly common here in the rural Midwest. Lots of folks have a vet come out to the farm to treat livestock and get the dogs a checkup at the same time. I know at least three young female vets who have this kind of practice in my area.

Anonymous said...

According to the NY Times and various other articles it appears to be the problems of paying off the $250k debt that is the problem. Population, socioeconomic factors and number of pets seem to be the biggest determinants of where vets can afford to take out the large loan required to purchase a clinic and sustain it.