Dr. Jennifer Welser is vice chair of the Veterinary Innovation Council, the chief strategy officer at CityVet and the former global chief medical officer at Mars Veterinary Health. She is passionate about advancing the industry in a manner that serves people, pets and the planet.Read Articles Written by Jennifer Welser
Veterinary medicine is a calling as much as a profession. It’s a field filled with immeasurably passionate and dedicated people who feel a profound sense of responsibility to animals. But in recent years, our calling has faced an existential issue: a growing workforce gap that could lead to millions of pets not having access to the veterinary care they need. The shortage might be one of the most significant issues our industry will face for a generation, but it’s not insurmountable. Together, if we work as an industry to re-envision how we build our pipeline to provide pet care, we can create a more sustainable future for our profession.
Attitudes Are Changing
Contrary to what national headlines might suggest, veterinary workforce shortages did not start with the pandemic. As we’ve witnessed in daily practice, pet ownership has been on the rise, fueled largely by increased generational interest in pet ownership and a strengthening cultural bond between people and their pets.
During the early days of the pandemic, historic pet adoption rates were a heart-warming highlight at a time with little to celebrate. But as veterinary teams have felt firsthand, the estimated 23 million “pandemic pets” had an unintended impact: the acceleration of the existing workforce shortage.
To address the needs ahead of us, we need to look at the growing number of pets and respond to pet owners’ shifting expectations. With millions of Americans working from home, devoted pet owners have become more proactive in their pets’ health. From faster delivery of routine care to easier specialty access, the owners want to keep their pets healthier and improve the animals’ quality of life. That is great news for pets, but as we’ve all felt, it presents challenges for veterinary teams already struggling to meet the need.
Our profession needs innovative solutions, applying principles from human health care and exploring digital tools to give teams the support and reprieve they need while reaching more pets in need of care.
A Widening Gap
In its current state, the veterinary profession isn’t sustainable long term. So, alongside many of my industry peers and Mars Veterinary Health colleagues, I’ve sought ways to drive meaningful and measurable change in addressing the shortage.
Together, I know we can secure a better future for pets, veterinary teams and our industry if we act quickly and with purpose.
But first, we must understand the facts. That’s why Mars Veterinary Health commissioned several new studies to quantify the shortage as it relates to companion animal veterinarians, veterinary technicians and veterinary specialists.
A few key findings include:
- With pet ownership steadily rising, a 33% increase in spending on pet health care services is expected over the next 10 years.
- Nearly 41,000 additional veterinarians will be needed to meet the needs of companion animal health care by 2030.
- Even with the new veterinary graduates expected in the coming decade, we’ll likely be left with a shortage of nearly 15,000 veterinarians by 2030.
- It would take more than 30 years of graduates to meet the 10-year need for credentialed veterinary technicians in the industry.
- At the current pace, up to 75 million pets in the U.S. might not have access to the veterinary care they need by 2030.
As the data demonstrates, comprehensive measures are urgently needed to ensure our profession has enough veterinary professionals to deliver safe, effective, high-quality medical care for millions of pets today and in the future. We risk turning the shortage into a long-term dilemma if we don’t.
A Common Purpose
I don’t believe the situation to be temporary or cyclical but rather a watershed moment that we must come together to solve with swift, tangible actions.
Through cross-industry partnerships, we can drive a more sustainable future for our profession by identifying innovative care solutions, building a strong pipeline of veterinary professionals reflective of the populations we serve and supporting the well-being of veterinary teams. It will be one where pets have access to the high-quality care they deserve and where all veterinary professionals see a strong and fulfilling career ahead of them.
Here are seven ways for veterinary clinics to help reduce the burden on their teams and contribute to the sustainability of the profession:
- Elevate the role of credentialed veterinary technicians. Ensure you’re familiar with your state practice act and that your veterinary technicians are empowered to work at the top of their license. That will enable your clinic to operate more efficiently and reduce pressure on other hospital team members.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. In addition to elevating your CVTs, share the workload with your entire team rather than taking it all on yourself. Giving everyone the opportunity to level up, lead and own engages the whole team.
- Support the well-being of your teams. Build in time for breaks, and consider offering mental health benefits or a subscription to wellness tools like Headspace. In addition, take advantage of free health and well-being tools and resources at MVH4You.com and through the American Veterinary Medical Association at bit.ly/39cFg5u.
- Use technology to your advantage. Embrace telehealth consultations and other technology that give pet owners support and peace of mind and that can make day-to-day practice more manageable.
- Emphasize the importance of preventive care with clients. Encourage pet owners to be proactive about scheduling their pet’s preventive care well in advance and to have a backup plan in an emergency.
- Inspire future generations of veterinary professionals. Consider being a mentor to an aspiring veterinary professional or sharing your love of veterinary medicine with youths, whether volunteering to speak in a local classroom or getting involved with organizations like Vet Set Go.
- Use your voice to inspire change. For example, join or get more engaged with your state or local veterinary medical association. Also, consider getting involved in public policy that supports the profession.
As clinicians and collectively as a profession, we have a responsibility to reimagine access to and the delivery of high-quality pet care and support the passionate, hard-working and dedicated veterinary professionals delivering that care. I’m confident we can do so as we unite to improve and transform industry norms to better serve people and pets.
Details about the Mars Veterinary Health workforce studies are at bit.ly/3HM3teg.