The Nationwide Pet Surge
During the pandemic, millions of Americans began staying indoors and looking for a sense of companionship during a time of uncertainty. It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 5 households in America adopted at least one pet (cat or dog) during the pandemic. The demand for pet care began booming and the public, already dealing with their own health concerns, became less patient. According to a recent survey of 125 vet providers, 64% believe that patients are less reasonable than they were a year ago.
Currently, 70% of U.S. households (90.5 million homes) owned a pet in 2022. With the majority of households sharing their homes with at least one pet, it’s no surprise that the demand for veterinary care is skyrocketing. There simply aren’t enough veterinary professionals to accommodate the growing number of owners bringing in their pets.
Vet Professional Numbers Dwindling
Multiple factors come into play when looking at the dwindling number of vet professionals:
Employee burnout has become much more apparent in the last few years as more and more businesses are short-staffed and patient demands increase. According to survey research from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, approximately half of vet techs burn out and leave the profession within their first five years of employment.
Even seasoned vet professionals who have been in the field for more than five years are seeking a different profession with a lighter workload. Having more hands in the office would help lighten the workload for burnt-out employees. However, this is easier said than done with fewer students pursuing a career path in the veterinary field.
A census performed by the AVAM set out to pinpoint common trends among veterinary professionals and look closely at the veterinary professional shortage. In 2018, the U.S. population of veterinarians who were 65 years old or younger was 102,000, a 30% increase from 2007.
Millennials represent 39% of veterinarians, Baby Boomers represent 33%, and members of Generation X represents 25%. Some members of Generation X are now old enough for high school graduation and college attendance. If trends continue, we could see the number of young vet students decline compared to years past.
Many board-certified veterinarians are also nearing retirement within the next 15 years (or sooner), which will impact the shortage of board-certified veterinarians. Unless there is a significant increase in the number of younger veterinarians pursuing board certification, these trends could be an indication of a more significant veterinary shortage in the future.
The mean age of graduation among veterinarians has been increasing since 1975. This increase in age is raising concerns that career length for veterinarians may be decreasing, potentially exacerbating shortages. With so many career paths, many students can choose from a wide variety of professions, some switching between careers after graduation.
It can be assumed that the growing demand for veterinary care since the start of the pandemic is causing veterinary professionals to reexamine their careers and pursue a career with less stress or a better work-life balance. Just as it is in medical school, admission to veterinary college and technical schools is very competitive. Even if a student can afford a veterinary education, the average acceptance rate is between 10-15%.
When it comes to diversity, white veterinarians account for 96.5% of all veterinarians. The high cost of veterinary education is certainly a factor for many students when considering a vet degree. Many students look to pursue a degree without any financial assistance from parents or family. Choosing a more expensive degree is a greater financial risk for students and could put them in debt upon graduation.
There is an undeniable link between children who grow up with a pet in their household and ones who choose a degree in the veterinary field. According to a survey from the Urban Institute, white families are more likely to be pet owners than other racial groups. For many groups of people, pets are underrepresented in households in some communities, and not growing up with a companion does impact interest in the field from an early age, although this is gradually changing.
The lack of diversity in the vet field could also be a contributing factor to the shortage of vet professionals. Students from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds might not pursue a career where they are the minority.
How to Increase Vet Professionals by 2030:
- Increase the number of vet schools
One surefire way to allow more students to pursue veterinary studies is to increase the number of vet schools in the US. According to AAVMC, there are 32 schools or colleges of veterinary medicine (CVMs) in the U.S. that are accredited or have pending accreditation. Compared to other degrees this number is relatively small and vet students are limited in the number of options they have for education. Similarly, the hope is to increase the number of veterinary technician schools.
- Offer Flexible Payment Options
The cost of vet school is a huge factor when students consider a degree in the veterinary field. The projected lifetime earnings of a veterinarian compared to the average college graduate is $450,000 after taxes. These earnings versus the $292,000 in cost of paying back student loans make pursuing a veterinarian degree difficult for many cash-strapped students.
Compared to other medical degrees, this cost versus reward is significantly lower and many students who decide to invest in medical school end up choosing a specification that can offer more money upfront. This is one area that also greatly contributes to the diversity of veterinarians and practice owners. Over 95% of veterinarians are caucasian and come from middle-class or higher economic demographics.
Offering flexibility when it comes to paying for vet school could persuade more students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to choose a degree in the veterinary field. Although this flexibility would be ideal, there is no guarantee it would happen anytime soon or even at all in the veterinary field.
- Adding a Physician Assistant position
Currently, there is no equivalent to a physician assistant in the veterinary field. Creating a veterinary assistant or similar position could be a way to increase interest in the field. This position could potentially attract more students from diverse backgrounds or cash-strapped students into the veterinary industry.
The addition of a physician assistant position would require less education making the cost lower and the time to graduate shorter. This position could be a great opportunity for a student who wants to work in veterinary medicine but doesn’t want to commit to medical school and its associated cost. This addition would also free up veterinarians to spend less time fulfilling prescriptions or administering insulin injections.
Even if a physician assistant position could not be added, there is an argument that current veterinary technicians in the field are being under-utilized. Utilizing veterinary technicians would also free up veterinarians and give them more time in their day.
- Talking to young children about being a veterinarian
Chatting with children about which career path they want to pursue is a simple way to begin teaching them about their options. Many schools have career days in which they can learn about what it’s like to work in a specific field. Wanting to become a veterinarian is a common desire for many children as they learn to care for and nurture pets from an early age. There could be multiple factors that begin to influence a child’s desire to become a veterinarian. However, chatting with them from an early age can increase the chances for more students to pursue a veterinary career.
This is why expanding diversity in the field is so essential and will help increase the number of students who pursue veterinary education. Promoting the profession to students from diverse backgrounds at a young age and showing them people who look and speak like them, will help break down the walls of diversity in the veterinary field and encourage more students to pursue a veterinary career.
One way to try and combat a vet staff shortage is to create a more successful practice. This starts with the way your practice is running day to day and how your clients and their pets are treated.
Here are some ideas for what vet practices can do to create a better place to work for team members and future employees:
What Can Vet Practices do Today?
1. Follow up with existing clients
Many pet owners will see a veterinarian for concerns about their pet’s health, but what percentage returns to seek additional advice or care? Following up with existing clients is an easy way to continue building relationships with your patients and their owners and keep the conversation going past the first appointment.
A simple text can remind your patients about scheduling another appointment or calling in. You can also offer follow-up appointments virtually for owners who might not want to show up in person. This can also help to keep schedules full and reduce the number of no-show appointments. Texting will also save on computer work and free up more time for your front-desk staff during the day.
2. Offer virtual care
Millennials represent the largest segment of pet owners across the board with 32%. The growing demand for virtual care shouldn’t be overlooked as many millennials prefer this type of appointment and are more likely to return if virtual care is offered. Veterinary practices should partner with telemedicine and telehealth companies that can provide a virtual care portal and can do so effectively for their patients.
Virtual care is a win-win solution for vet practices because you still get paid, and build relationships, but pet owners can also get the advice they need in a more flexible manner. Offering virtual care also keeps your clients happy and prevents them from being frustrated that their pets cannot be seen. It is much more effective for a client to meet with a vet professional virtually than to meet with Dr. Google and go down a rabbit hole of uncertainty.
3. Create a practice of convenience
Pet owners are looking for convenience and ease when it comes to their vet providers and appointments. Offering virtual care is a huge step in the right direction and will set you apart from the competition. Another way to offer convenience is to let your clients wait in their car instead of waiting in the office for their appointment.
Many animals get stressed out while waiting around other animals or being locked up in a carrier. Allowing your clients to check in with their phones and creating a curb-side waiting room will help pets to remain calm and give clients a sense of convenience. This will also help create more peace in your waiting room and less irritated clients.
4. Invest in patient engagement software
Patient engagement software like Weave is designed to automate your day-to-day tasks and help grow your business. Many vet practices are behind when it comes to the level of automation and technology in the office. Investing in software that reduces your team’s workload can reduce the likelihood of an unhappy staff and could prevent a resignation.
According to, The 2023 Veterinary Business Insights Report, “18% of providers say an employee has quit because of frustration with the tech used in the office. More than half of the respondents we surveyed (65%) said that having the latest tech makes it easier to retain good employees. New tech is not only easier to use when hiring but is a good investment that provides a much simpler way to run your business.”
Your patients and their owners along with your staff will benefit first-hand from intuitive software in the office. Pet owners can schedule appointments from the comfort of their homes and stay up-to-date with their appointments. Weave can also send out texts to your happy clients so they can leave a quick review of their visit before getting in their car.
Stay Ahead of the Game
Although nothing can prepare you entirely for a vet staffing crisis, putting strong procedures in place now and investing in the right technology will give your team a simpler workload during the day and help save time. Weave makes this easy with a wide variety of tools your practice can benefit from, all on one platform. If you’re curious about Weave and want to learn more, schedule a free demo today.