Anthony S. Johnson, D.V.M., Shares 3 Challenges Facing the Veterinary Profession
A 2019 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that about 67 percent of U.S. households now have at least one pet. This represents a 56 percent increase from 1988, and there is no slowdown in sight. Indeed, it seems that the more fast-paced life becomes, the more quality time people want to spend with their beloved companion animal (or often, multiple companion animals).
In terms of basic supply and demand, the growing popularity — and according to many mental health professionals, the therapeutic importance — of pets obviously bodes well for the veterinary profession. However, according to Anthony S. Johnson, D.V.M., who for more than a decade has served as Medical Director of the Veterinary Information Network headquartered in Davis, CA, there are some key challenges facing the profession that will require a combination of vision, cooperation, flexibility and fortitude to overcome: making veterinary education more affordable, taming the internet’s misinformation, and making veterinary care more accessible.
1) Making Veterinary Education More Affordable
Research by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) has revealed that the median amount of student debt for graduates of U.S. veterinary colleges climbed to a whopping $143,111 in 2018, which represented a 7.5 percent increase from 2017. This massive debt load is making it extremely difficult for dedicated and adept individuals to pursue what for most is not just a vocation, but rather a personal calling that they have cultivated since childhood.
“The relatively small number of accredited veterinary programs and consistently strong demand for enrollment has helped ensure that new veterinarians are highly competent, and well prepared to meaningfully contribute to the profession upon graduation,” commented Anthony S. Johnson, who is Board Certified in Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC). “However, unless we find responsible and sustainable ways to make veterinary education more affordable — for example, by offering more scholarships and increasing state funding for accredited programs — the problem will only get worse. Salaries for new veterinarians who are building their practices, specializations, reputations and networks are not keeping up with the increase in medical inflation and overall costs of doing business.”
2) Taming the Internet’s Misinformation Beast
As with many other medical and health-related fields, the Internet has been both a blessing and a curse for the veterinary profession. Pet owners with questions or concerns can “Google” just about anything, and instantly access a vast array of articles, blog posts, forum comments, videos, and the list goes on. The good news is that some of this information is accurate, responsible and helpful. But the bad news is that much of it is not.
“Just as medical doctors are dealing with a surge of self-diagnosing and self-caring patients, veterinarians are dealing with an influx of many well-meaning but woefully misinformed pet owners who followed some bad advice that they came across on the web, and ultimately ended up harming rather than helping their pet,” commented Anthony S. Johnson, who has taught undergraduate and professional courses at Purdue University and recently relocated from Carmel, Indiana to the Chicago area. “Unfortunately, there is no way for the veterinary profession to stop the endless flow of misinformation. As such, veterinarians need to make it a priority to educate pet owners, and help them understand the qualitative difference between a layperson’s opinion on the web, and the detailed and data-driven information provided by a trained, experienced and qualified veterinarian.”
Ultimately, pet owners need to feel confident and comfortable that if they have any question concerning their pet, that they can contact their veterinarian for responsive and responsible guidance.
3) Making Veterinary Care More Affordable
The cost of providing veterinary care is rising due to a confluence of factors, including increased demand (today’s sophisticated and discerning pet owners expect more care for more issues) and rising drug costs (which are set by pharmaceutical companies and not by veterinarians). On top of this — and contrary to what some people believe — veterinary practices are not publicly funded or subsidized. They face the same cost burdens as other private businesses: staff, rent, insurance, utilities, marketing, and the list goes on. Yet despite this pressure to increase prices for everything from routine vaccinations to specialized treatments and surgeries, veterinarians — for the benefit of their clientele and frankly for their own business sustainability — need to find ways to make veterinary care more affordable.
“Just as with human health, the number one thing that pet owners can do to keep their veterinary bills down is to focus on prevention rather than treatment,” commented Anthony S. Johnson. “As such, veterinarians should make it a top priority to educate pet owners on how they can be part of their pet’s long-term health and wellness by setting aside time during each visit to provide advice, and also making useful information available on their website and social media pages. Not only does this kind of education significantly benefit pets, but it also dramatically lowers overall veterinary bills.”