High graduate debt, falling demand for pet health care & corporatisation. The veterinary profession is changing: is it for better or worse?
There’s a lot of debate going on right now about the future of the veterinary profession. Many vets are worried about the current trend which basically follows this path:
1) Huge demand to study veterinary, especially among young females (80% vet students are female)
2) Not enough places at vet schools: traditionally, the number of student places has been capped in order to avoid flooding the market with far more vets than jobs
3) The realisation by universities that there’s money to be made in teaching vet students, and that there’s a strong demand from students who don’t make it into the established vet schools. The first new vet school in over 50 years opened recently in the UK, and at least one more is planned. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, veterinary courses are taught in English, offering entry to the vet profession with a lower academic barrier if students are prepared to pay the fees
4) This is linked to the rising cost of veterinary education, with students in England paying £9000 per year x 5 years plus living costs
5) The result is that new vet graduates are qualifying with large debts, in higher numbers than ever before
6) Meanwhile the veterinary market is contracting, with people spending less money on pets, and so there are fewer jobs for vets available
7) Result: increasing numbers of underemployed young female vets with large debts
8.) Next part of jigsaw: there are fewer young vets to buy into established vet partnerships, and an increasing trend for chains of vet clinics to go “corporate”, owned by shareholders whose main aim may be profit rather than the traditional broader professional view of a vet fulfilling a calling to earn a living
9) Result: vets become pawns in the animal care field, with young female vets desperate to pay back loans by working for corporations. As employees rather than part owners, they become subject to pressures common in other walks of life (“For your bonus, you need to sell so much food, book in so many dentals, see so many people every hour”)
10) The long term potential result: erosion of trust in vets as pet owners question whether something is recommended because it is really needed, or because the vet needs to reach a target. This erosion of trust has already begun in recent years, with consumers questioning everything that professionals do: the sequence that I’ve outlined above will exacerbate this trend.
This trend in the veterinary professions seems to be a global one, and as ever, the USA seems to be further down the path than the rest of us. An excellent article has just been published on this in the New York Times – read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/business/high-debt-and-falling-demand-trap-new-veterinarians.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&
Vets are worried about these changes: our profession is heading down a new path with unpredictable consequences. It’s hard to know what can be done to change the path: it feels like we’re being nudged this way by unstoppable market forces.
What do you think? Should anything be done? Or do we just need to accept that this is the way it’s going?