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Short- and long-term solutions addressing a veterinarian shortage

Posted at 1:39 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 14:39:00-05

So many industries are struggling with labor shortages and the veterinary industry isn't any different. Leaders in the field are working to make sure there are enough veterinarians to care for our pets, even if some of the solutions are long-term, like opening new vet schools in the U.S.

There areat least ten schools in various stages of development. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is one of them.

"We have no doubt that it will actually move the dial on that question of increasing diversity within the profession," said Dr. Moses T. Kairo, Dean of the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences.

"It's a problem right now, we need more vets indeed," he said. "The problem we currently have is pretty serious at the national level. It is at a time when, in fact, right now we're not satisfying the current need. And when you actually project forward, it's like to 2030, the gap just continues growing."

The historically black college says its target date for accepting students to the new veterinary school is the fall of 2026.

"I really do strongly believe that it will make a difference to a lot of our students-- who are students coming from various schools who really want to get into the profession and may not have been able to do so before," added Dr. Kairo.

Some veterinary schools have increased their class sizes as well, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). But it will be years before any of these veterinary students graduate and enter the workforce.

Dr. Andrew Maccabe, CEO of the AAVMC, said some veterinary offices are already trying to address the shortages in the short term.

"Leveraging technology," he said. "Meaning, are there things where we can incorporate the use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality for our pet parents to have their initial contact with a veterinarian through those sorts of methods?"

Dr. Maccabe says veterinary offices can also better utilize vet techs so they can help with procedures.

"Making sure that they are doing all of the procedures and practices that they are licensed to do. Again, making better use of that workforce," he said.

Dr. Maccabe stresses promoting the health and well-being of employees in this field is also necessary to help with burnout and retention. Something he says can start in veterinary school.

"We've incorporated much of that into the professional curriculum," he explained, "to put students while they're in a learning environment on how to deal with these issues so that when they enter their professional careers, they're prepared to handle that."

The AAVMC offers resources on its website for aspiring veterinarians and also hosts a career fair annually specifically aimed at introducing young students to this profession.

"Most of us think of the veterinarians who treat our pets, our companion animals. And indeed, that's about 80 percent of the workforce engaged in that type of work. But veterinarians are responsible for much more broad healthcare issues," said Dr. Maccabe.

"All of those other smaller sectors have been in chronic shortage for many, many years, and it's only exacerbated by this shortage in the companion animal sector which drives the entire market," he said.