A Shift in Veterinary Trends

In response to an evolving industry, equine veterinarians are reevaluating their specialties and ?adapting to change.
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In response to tough financial times and an evolving industry, equine veterinarians are reevaluating their specialties and ­adapting to change.

The landscape of veterinary medicine is changing as it adapts to economic and societal shifts. You might be accustomed to the following: Your veterinarian travels to where your horse lives for checkups and treatments, unless the horse needs more intensive procedures or therapy, in which case you might load him up and take him to a referral clinic. However, that traditional scenario has given way to appointments at large clinics with boarded specialists, more veterinarians considering the public sector, and practitioners struggling to keep up with all the veterinary information now available to horse owners online. Here, sources from the industry reflect on these trends and the ways in which equine veterinarians have been impacted and are responding.

The Overall Numbers

In 2006 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) began compiling current U.S. veterinary statistics for review. That year there were 81,468 licensed veterinarians in the United States, a figure that rose to 90,201 by 2010. Of those numbers, 56,092 (69.8%) and 61,502 (68.2%), respectively, were in private practice. The number in the "mixed animal" category, which is a combination of large and small animal practice, has dropped slightly from 4,376 (7.8% of the total) to 4,326 (7.0% of the total). The greatest increase in licensed veterinarians appears to be in the companion animal exclusive segment, which covers the cats, dogs, other small mammals, and exotics. This category has grown by more than 1% in the last four years. Public and corporate employment includes veterinarians that work for the federal, state, or local governments, colleges or universities, and other corporate industries. These numbers also increased from 13,789 in 2006 to 15,301 in 2010. 

While there isn’t an overall shortage of veterinarians, there is one of large animal practitioners in rural areas. These vets are typically mobile and specialize in livestock, which includes food animals: beef, sheep, swine, and dairy, but a livestock veterinarian’s practice population often includes horses, as well. The number of food animal veterinarians has declined by more than 1% in the last four years, and those numbers are expected to continue shrinking. According to W. Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA, AVMA executive vice president, one of the big reasons for this is that the nation’s changing demographics show more people living in urban areas and fewer in rural areas. There are also the drawbacks of long hours on the road compounded by seemingly ever-increasing gas prices. As a result, fewer students consider working for a mobile large animal practice, he notes

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Written by:

Stephanie Ruff received a MS in animal science from the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She has worked in various aspects of the horse industry, including Thoroughbred and Arabian racing, for nearly 20 years. More information about her work can be found at www.theridingwriter.com. She has also published the illustrated children’s story Goats With Coats.

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