Nurturing Generations of Veterinary Professionals

Trends

Written by:

Bio not available.

Working to address the industry-wide shortage of veterinary professionals is a massive but essential undertaking.

Entering into the third decade of my career as a veterinarian, I’ve experienced firsthand the countless ways pets positively impact people. In addition to the companionship, connection, and sense of purpose they provide us, there’s a growing body of evidence that pet ownership is linked to health benefits and saves the human healthcare system billions of dollars every year. As the mother of a 6-year-old who wants to be a veterinarian, I feel a responsibility to help ensure we’re building a profession she can enter and feel confident investing her future in.

Just as our understanding of the human-animal bond has continued to evolve, so have pet owner expectations of care for their furry family members. As a result, veterinary services are in high demand. A Mars Veterinary Health study found it would take more than 30 years of credentialed veterinary technician graduates and up to 55,000 additional veterinarians to meet the needs of companion animal healthcare in the U.S. by 2030.


Given these statistics, I don’t worry about my daughter’s future in terms of job security. What concerns me is ensuring we have enough veterinary professionals to keep up with the high number of pets in need – and ensuring their well-being in the process – supporting their mental health, financial well-being, and their personal sustainability in this profession.

Working to address the industry-wide shortage is a massive but essential undertaking that has the potential to change the trajectory for pets and the profession we love. I’m encouraged by the in-progress work happening across the profession today, ranging from innovative grants and scholarships, to new veterinary colleges opening in several U.S. states. As veterinary leaders, it is our responsibility to take actions today that enable future generations of veterinary professionals and pets to thrive. To meet the growing needs, we must both retain the exceptional talent already working in the industry and inspire the next generation to seek veterinary careers by making this a forever profession where animal lovers can start, stay, and grow.

Addressing recruitment

The high cost of veterinary education and limited growth opportunities are some of the biggest barriers to expanding the veterinary talent pipeline. Current academic pathways are insufficient to meet the projected need for veterinary professionals in the next decade. By offering student debt relief and working with academic institutions, we can create additional career pathways, increase graduating class sizes, and increase the number of veterinary schools.

Further, the veterinary workforce is not currently reflective of the communities we serve, and addressing this is an essential component of making our profession sustainable. There are so many pet-loving youth, many of whom are in underrepresented communities that aren’t exposed to veterinary careers. It’s critical to provide additional access to educational resources and STEM learning opportunities, and to offer mentors or role models to shed light on what various careers in veterinary medicine could look like.

Engaging pet lovers in all communities and raising awareness of veterinary career opportunities is crucial to mobilizing diverse talent, promoting more culturally competent care, and growing the profession to meet demand. To support this shift, we are working across Mars Veterinary Health to champion equity, inclusion, and diversity in various ways. Examples include internal diversity resource groups and external partnerships with organizations like Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition (DVMC), Purdue’s League of VetaHumanz, and Pawsibilities Vet Med, which reduce barriers to entry by providing mentorship and support to aspiring veterinarians in historically underrepresented communities.

Addressing retention

Challenges in recruiting new talent to the field also play a role in our current workforce. An American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) study found 30% or more of veterinary practice team members are considering leaving their current clinical practice, noting those who leave will continue to move from one practice to another in search of an environment that fulfills their needs and desires – or leave clinical practice altogether. Though staggering, that’s not a surprising statistic, given the challenges veterinary professionals face every day.

Today’s veterinarians work long, intense hours – often in greater isolation and under more stress than ever before. The desire to depart from a profession they once loved and were so passionate about comes, in part, from increasingly high expectations from pet owners and the intense emotional burdens of compassion fatigue, burnout, and isolation, which have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.

I myself have struggled with these challenges at various times during my career, but this doesn’t need to be the case for everyone. We must care for all aspects of veterinary professionals’ health and well-being to proactively remove and alleviate stressors perpetuated by the shortage and the inherent ups and downs we face in our profession.

Cultivating a workplace environment where team members feel recognized, safe, and supported is key. To foster a culture that treats veterinary professionals as the whole humans they are, we must provide mentorship to support new grads, provide upstream solutions to address mental health challenges, strengthen career pathways, and create growth opportunities.

Looking forward

Expanding and diversifying the workforce, disrupting educational models, and providing growth opportunities are key to recruiting talent and supporting the current workforce. To make progress toward a more sustainable profession, we must act now. Working together, we can create a better world for pets, the people who love them and future generations – who deserve to find a thriving career in veterinary medicine, including my daughter.

 

Molly McAllister, DVM, MPH headshot
Molly McAllister, DVM, MPH, Chief Medical Officer, Mars Veterinary Health

 

Dr. McAllister leads the veterinary function of Mars Veterinary Health and is driven by her passion for preventive pet healthcare and the development of future veterinary leaders. As chief medical officer, she ensures the culture, strategy, talent, and tools are in place to consistently deliver excellence in high-quality medicine across Mars Veterinary Health’s 3,000 global veterinary clinics.

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/lemono

>