Veterinary schools continue to evolve to provide more practical experience as student demographics and job requirements change. That message was clear in a panel discussion last week during a media conference hosted by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc.

Part 1 of this series focused on the panel’s discussion of educational expenses, student debt and financial challenges for young veterinarians. This installment covers their discussion of supply and demand in the veterinary market and veterinary school curriculum.

The panel featured:

  • Linda Berent, DVM, PhD, associate dean of academic affairs, University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Patrick Halbur, DVM, PhD, chair of the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, Iowa State University.
  • Brad White, DVM, MS, associate professor of production medicine, Kansas State University.

White led the discussion on supply and demand for veterinarians and veterinary services.

 According to recent studies from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), employment among food-animal veterinarians is 100 percent. Vet-school graduates with food-animal specialties find plenty of job opportunities, but there is not a significant shortage of food-animal veterinarians. Some areas, however, experience shortages of veterinary services, often because there is not enough potential business in the local area to support a veterinary clinic or for an existing clinic to hire associates at adequate salary levels.

White says veterinary schools have increased their graduate numbers by around 10 to 12 percent over the past 10 years to help address demand. Today, he says, most graduates with an emphasis on food-animal practice have no problem finding positions, but those first jobs often are not their first or ideal choice.

Back around 2005, White says, K-State faculty regularly received calls from veterinary practitioners who were having trouble finding associates to fill positions. Now he says they receive fewer of those calls, and more from new graduates looking for help in finding good positions.

High cattle prices in recent years have created demand for veterinary services, White says, but that trend has not influenced student decisions on whether or not to pursue food-animal specialties.

Halbur led off the discussion of curriculum needs in veterinary schools. He says Iowa State engages with an advisory group including practitioners, industry representatives, alumni, students and others to continuously assess the school’s curriculum, which has changed considerably in recent years. The college has, for example, partnered with leading farms and agricultural companies to place four-year students into real-world production environments. In the past, he adds, students involved in these internships or externships mostly just shadowed a veterinarian. Today, they frequently go to the farm alone, working on specific projects, taking samples, solving problems and making decisions. This problem-based approach to teaching also is incorporated into classrooms, and Halbur says the approach requires the university to hire the right faculty, with a good mix of practice experience along with academic skills.

He adds that many Iowa State students  spend a summer immersed in an unfamiliar production environment, such as working on a dairy or feedlot and conducting research, with industry-supported grants financing the experiences.

Berent says Missouri students have multiple options to spend time at other universities or pursue internships in different states, to gain experience in specific industries based on their interests.

White agrees that more active, real-world learning results in better retention. He adds that in the big picture, the role of the food-animal veterinarian remains the same – to protect the food supply, animal health and client returns. However, the tools and technologies and the ways veterinarians interact with clients will continue to evolve, and veterinary schools need to adjust accordingly.