A topic of much discussion in the veterinary market is the labor shortage. Many are advocating for more veterinary schools in the US (as many as 8 are under consideration or already underway), and some are advocating for a new mid-level professional equivalent to a physician’s assistant in human medicine. In addressing this issue, I think it’s important to take the long view. In 2012, in response to low and stagnant incomes, the profession commissioned a workforce study that estimated the profession would have excess capacity for the next 25 years. Yet less than10 years later the profession was perceived as being in a “severe shortage.” The 2012 study was no doubt heavily influenced by the impact of the Great Recession, at a time when household discretionary income was as at a modern low. Likewise the 2021 “severe shortage” was no doubt influenced by the tremendous amount of money poured into the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Discretionary income, especially in middle to upscale households, was robust.
The point is, there will always be ebbs and flows in demand for veterinary services (i.e. labor) based on the availability of discretionary income (given that companion animal practice employs the majority of veterinarians). But there are more fundamental drivers of demand for the amount and type of veterinary services. These can best be viewed from a much longer perspective, say 25 to 50 years. In making decisions about opening up more vet schools or creating new practitioner levels, the long view is the most prudent perspective.