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Veterinarian Shortage About to Become More Severe: Recent BLS Data

The last few years have been challenging for Veterinary employers, and one of the reasons is that there is a veterinarian shortage in the job market.

Demand for Veterinary products and services has continued to rise (driven in part by the pandemic), but there has not been enough of a supply of veterinarians to meet this surging demand. And according to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it appears as though the veterinarian shortage could become more severe in the years ahead.

The BLS and the veterinarian shortage

Twice a year, the BLS updates its Occupational Outlook Handbook, which includes information about the nature of work, working conditions, training and education, earnings, and job outlook for hundreds of different occupations in the United States. The Veterinary profession is one of the occupations included within the Handbook.

During the past few years, the BLS has not made major changes to its outlook for the Veterinary profession. The Bureau has consistently forecast that jobs within the profession would grow around 16% to 17% during the next 10 years. However, its September 2022 update marked such a major change.

In April of this year, the BLS projected that veterinarian jobs will grow by 17% between 2020 and 2030. In September, the Bureau adjusted those numbers. Now the BLS is projecting that veterinarian jobs will grow by 19% between 2021 and 2031. According to a report released by Mars Veterinary Health earlier this year, this would translate into a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians by the end of the decade.

In April, the BLS projected 4,400 job openings for veterinarians each year, on average, over the course of the decade. In September, the Bureau revised that number upward, now projecting 4,800 job openings each year, on average, between 2021 and 2031. Over the course of the decade, that translates into 4,000 more job openings within the profession.

So as severe as the veterinarian shortage is right now, the BLS is predicting there will be 400 more open jobs in the profession next year than previously calculated. And as of right now, it doesn’t seem as though there are going to be 400 additional veterinarians in the workforce to fill those positions. That’s because there aren’t enough veterinarians to fill the positions that currently exist, much less additional positions projected to be created next year and every year until 2031.

So, what about new veterinarians entering the workforce and the retirement of existing veterinarians?

According to an article in Today’s Veterinary Business in February of last year, approximately 2,000 people retire from the Veterinary profession every year. And according to data from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, about 3,000 Veterinary students graduated in 2020. If these numbers remain steady, this means approximately 30,000 Veterinary students will enter the workforce during the next 10 years.

While that seems impressive, those 30,000 graduates will have their choice of 48,000 job openings, both existing and newly created positions. Since the unemployment rate in the Veterinary profession is now hovering around 0.2%, according to job board site Zippia, it means that instead of a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians by the year 2031, we’ll be looking at a shortage of 18,000.

What to do about the veterinarian shortage

On some level, it’s difficult to wrap one’s brain around these numbers, so much so that it might be tempting to dismiss them. However, as a Veterinary recruiter in “the trenches” of the job market on a daily basis, I can attest to the validity of these numbers and the reality of the veterinarian shortage. It’s as severe as I have ever seen it during all of my years working within the Veterinary profession.

So . . . what can you do about it? In short, two things:

#1—Do everything you can to keep the veterinarians you already have.

Unfortunately, some employers spend more time and energy on hiring than they do on retention, and as a Certified Employee Retention Specialist, I can say that it’s far better to keep a veterinarian on staff than to have to hire another one because that veterinarian left. I’ve written extensively on employee retention, and although there isn’t time to explore all of these strategies extensively, below are seven ways to increase retention of your veterinarians:

  1. Show them that they’re valued.
  2. Reduce their stress levels.
  3. Treat all employees with respect.
  4. Model and enforce accountability.
  5. Practice transparency.
  6. Offer more flexibility.
  7. Build trust.

While it hasn’t been in the news quite as much lately, the “Great Resignation” is still happening in the job market, both overall across most industries and certainly within the Veterinary profession.

#2—Do everything you can to recruit candidates who are open to opportunity.

Even if you successfully retain all of your veterinarians, there’s an excellent chance that you will need to hire more, as the demand for Veterinary services remains at a high level. As many employers have discovered during the past few years, only posting job advertisements to fill open positions is not a particularly effective strategy. That’s because just about all veterinarian candidates are passive candidates, which means they’re not actively looking for a new job. (Some might be, but the vast majority are not.)

Since this is the case, hiring veterinarians requires a more proactive approach. You can’t just “sit back and wait for candidates to come to you.” That simply is not going to happen. Since there were seven steps for greater employee retention, here are seven steps for more effective veterinarian hiring:

  1. Identify the top candidates in the job market (since they’re not going to come to you).
  2. Streamline the interviewing and hiring process.
  3. Thoroughly know the position that you’re trying to fill.
  4. Engage the candidates and really get to know them (make them feel wanted).
  5. Be earnest, sincere, and authentic in your dealings with candidates.
  6. Keep the candidates updated and share positive feedback.
  7. Utilize the talent and expertise of an experienced and reputable recruiting firm.

Another resource you may want to reference is a recent article I wrote titled, “What It Takes to Hire Veterinarians in This Job Market.”

And in regard to #7 on the above list, The VET Recruiter has been helping Veterinary employers identify, recruit, and hire top talent for more than 25 years. We have the network, we have the experience, and we have the expertise to help you navigate the job market during these challenging times.

We invite you to reach out to us about your recruiting and hiring needs. There is no initial cost or obligation. You can request a free consultation and/or you can get a quote regarding our services to better determine how and if we can help your organization.

We also invite you to read testimonials and watch video testimonials from both employers and candidates who have used our services to find top talent and take the next big step in their career. We have a proven track record of success, and we’re confident that if you are an employer of choice, we can help your organization hire more veterinarians in 2023 and every year after that.

You can click here to find out more about our services for employers. Click here to learn more about our recruiting process.

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.