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Could We Actually Be Underestimating the Veterinarian Shortage?

Many questions have arisen during the past few years regarding the shortage of veterinarians within the profession, questions such as:

  • What is causing the shortage?
  • How bad will the shortage get?
  • What can we do to combat the shortage?
  • What effect is it having on the profession?

However, the one question that not many people are asking—if any—is this one: could we actually be underestimating the veterinarian shortage?

By now, you might know the statistics inside and out. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarian jobs will grow by 19% between 2021 and 2031. Numerically, that translates into 16,800 more jobs in the profession in 2031 than there were in 2021. With the application of some simple math, it also means that an average of 1,680 new jobs will be added within the profession each and every year. Keep in mind that this represents new job creation, positions that did not exist previously.

These 1,680 new jobs will be in addition to whatever existing jobs are vacant, because there will still be plenty of those. Whenever a veterinarian resigns to take a position with another employer, there is an existing job that is now empty and needs to be filled. The BLS is projecting an average of 4,800 job openings for veterinarians every year. As noted above, 1,680 of those openings will be new jobs that did not exist previously. That leaves an average of 3,120 existing positions that have been vacated.

What are the chances that all 1,680 new veterinarian jobs will be filled by December 31 of every year between 2021 and 2031?

What are the chances that all 3,120 existing veterinarian vacancies will be filled by December 31 of every year during the decade?

That brings us to the unemployment rate for veterinarians. According to the job search site Zippia, since 2013, the unemployment rate in the Veterinary profession has decreased from 1.0% to 0.2%. I cannot remember the last time I spoke with a veterinarian who wanted a job but did not have a job.

With an unemployment rate that is basically nonexistent and nearly 1,700 jobs added to the profession each and every year, how quickly will it take the unfilled jobs to balloon? Not too long. In fact, it may have already started to happen.

For example, a recent search for veterinarian jobs in the United States and Canada on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Career Center brings back 4,632 results.

In addition, a recent search for veterinarian jobs in the United States on the job posting site Indeed brings back 14,859 results.

There are currently about 1,000 more Veterinary school graduates entering the workforce than there are veterinarians who retire every year. With the unemployment rate currently hovering around zero, that is not enough to compensate for the 1,680 new veterinarian positions being created every year, let alone the 4,800 that exist overall within the profession.

According to a report released by Mars Veterinary Health in March of 2022, a shortage of nearly 15,000 veterinarians could exist by the year 2030. Using the BLS data and information from other resources, I have posed the possibility that there could be a shortage of 18,000 veterinarians by the year 2031.

We are only one year and a few months into the BLS’s latest projections. Even if you count only new job creation alone throughout the decade, the number of new jobs created, plus the number of open positions on the AVMA website equals 21,000 jobs. Once again, that is with an unemployment rate close to 0%, because you are adding 1,680 new jobs every year when the unemployment rate is already at 0.2%.

And that is a full 3,000 more job openings more than my previous projection of 18,000.

And if the Indeed job board numbers are accurate—or even close to being accurate—then that would mean we may be underestimating the veterinarian shortage. However, it is well known that there are often duplicates of job postings on the major job boards. The problem is that we do not know exactly how many duplicates we are dealing with. That is why I have decided to defer to the AVMA numbers as a more reliable baseline and starting point for this discussion.

So, the answer to the question posed by the title of this article is “Yes, we could very well be underestimating the veterinarian shortage.”

Whatever employers have been doing to successfully recruit, hire, and retain veterinarians is what they must continue to do. Regardless of whether the number is 18,000 or 21,000 or a number even higher than that, employers should make becoming an employer of choice their top priority. That is because when you are an employer of choice, top talent seeks you out. Instead of you having to hunt them down, they come to you for employment opportunities.

The VET Recruiter has been helping employers do what is necessary to recruit, hire, and retain veterinarians for more than two decades, and we can help your organization, too. Animal Health and Veterinary organizations need to be proactive in their quest for top talent, and we have the experience and expertise necessary to get the job done.

We invite you to find out more about our Veterinary recruiting services for employers and also learn more about our recruiting process and how we can help you hire more veterinarians this year.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1. By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2. By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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