Bolstering the Equine Veterinarian Workforce


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AAEP Commission aims to alleviate the shortage of equine veterinarians.

According to data compiled by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the outlook for equine medicine from a workforce standpoint is not a positive one. Approximately 1.3% of new veterinary graduates enter equine practice directly each year, with another 4.5% pursuing further training in equine internship positions.

Within five years, it gets worse. The AAEP said its data shows that 50% of all these veterinarians leave for small animal practice or quit veterinary medicine altogether.

There are several factors that contribute to the high turnover rate, said David Foley, AAEP executive director. “However, the nature of the 24/7 ambulatory coverage model is perhaps one of the biggest reasons. It makes it extremely taxing, especially for smaller practices, to provide round-the-clock coverage for clients. These demands can make it extremely difficult to have a life outside of practice.”

A shortage of equine veterinarians impacts not just veterinary medicine but horse owners as well. “The long-term effect could mean it’s ultimately more difficult to find an equine veterinarian in your area, which potentially has a negative impact on horse health and welfare,” Foley said. “For veterinarians, practices are having a difficult time attracting and keeping younger associates.”

In July, the AAEP announced it had formed the Commission on Equine Veterinary Sustainability to develop strategies to retain and recruit more veterinarians to equine practice.

According to the AAEP, many areas of the United States and beyond currently face a shortage of equine practitioners to provide veterinary care to horses and other equids. “This equine welfare issue will further intensify without action to address the diminishing number of equine veterinarians,” the association said in a statement.

The five subcommittees address the key pain points identified in equine practice; Foley said:

Compensation – Addressing accounts payable, appropriate fee structures, and generally improving the compensation level of the equine practitioner to more closely align with companion animal practice.

Emergency Coverage – Creating new models and collaborative solutions for handling this very difficult part of equine practice.

Internships – Improving the quality of education and mentorship offered during the internship year while also trying to create structure and standards around ‘duty hours’ and intern compensation.

Practice Culture – Addressing those areas that make up the culture of an equine practice, such as maternity/paternity leave policies, reduced work weeks, creative scheduling, etc.

Veterinary Students – Focusing on how we better promote the positives of equine practice to the veterinary student as well as ways to improve the hands-on, clinical skills training – specifically in equine – that the students receive.

While developing solutions to the five key factors affecting the sustainability of equine practice, the Commission will ensure that the needs of one- and two-doctor practices are carefully considered. Approximately 50% of AAEP members operate practices of this size. Outreach to horse owners and equine industry partners will create expanded awareness and yield additional perspective.

“Every person in the profession has a role to play in its transformation,” added Dr. Read. “This is one of the largest initiatives ever undertaken by the AAEP, and we look forward to collaborating with equine veterinarians and those who help support them in all facets of practice to change the numbers.”


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