Decline in Large Animal Veterinary PracticePublished August 12, 2008
With the growing popularity of both equine sports and recreational horse activities, the eyes of horse lovers around the world naturally are turned to watching the Summer Olympic Equestrian Games. According to a study made by the Barents Group of Washington, D.C., the horse industry contributes to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product more than the motion picture services, furniture and fixture sales and tobacco sales. Employment in the horse industry provides more jobs than television and radio broadcasting, railroad work, petroleum and coal product manufacturing as well as tobacco product manufacturing. With over 6.9 million horses in the United States, which includes both recreational and commercial enterprises, over 7.1 million people are participating in both professional and recreational equine involvement. Apparently, the horse industry is one, which is very alive. Therefore, the CNN broadcast yesterday morning featuring a story about the dramatic decline in the numbers of veterinarians around the country practicing large animal medicine bodes of a major growing concern, which piqued my interest to learn more about why large animal practices are dwindling. According to an article featured in TheHorse.com from data supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States may face a shortage of as many as 4,000 veterinarians in the next six years. Moreover, while current statistics show that veterinary medicine is the ninth fastest growing occupation in the U.S., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University researchers found that veterinary schools would only graduate about 31,600 veterinarians, which falls short of the 24,000 new veterinarians needed. While no statistics are presently available, large animal owners will feel the greatest loss of care. With 56% of food- animal veterinarians in New England are now over the age of 50, (compared to 43% of all veterinarians) more than 25% working in a large animal specialty plan to retire by 2014. Apparently, more applicants to Veterinary Schools are interested in treating small companion animals than "food supply" animals. The potential for higher earnings rests with a small animal practice. Not only does working with large animals require more work hours, being on call for emergencies more frequently and more travel time, large animal practice presents greater physical risk, while treating small animals may present less danger to practitioners. Yet another reason may be that urban areas are more populated than rural areas, with greater potential for clients, and fewer applicants to veterinary schools are from rural areas. Some veterinarians feel treating small companion animals resonates more closely with their love for animals, whereas employment in the "food animal" industry is somewhat paradoxical. I was saddened by the CNN broadcast. I will always remember the wonderful hours I shared with of my equine-only veterinarian years ago, accompanying him on rounds acting as his assistant.. It was not only fascinating to be involved in treating them but watching the skillful and compassionate care he provided inspired me greatly. It worries me that there are fewer future veterinarians interested in going into large animal practice. I do hope a solution is found that will initiate more interest in the field. Perhaps financial incentives can be put in place which will be inviting to the small animal practioner to consider a mixed practice and be a draw to future veterinary students. What are your thoughts on this topic? Please leave a comment and share.
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