Today's Veterinary Business

FEB 2019

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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42 Today's Veterinary Business Community Community POLITICS & POLICY By Mark Cushing, JD The last public debate about the number of veterinarians in America took place more than four years ago in Denver at the American Veterinary Medical Association annual meeting. I won't forget it for two reasons. I debated three people: Drs. Paul Pion, Jim Wilson and Dennis McCurnin. A one-on-three debate is always interest- ing. But what stands out today is that the topic was the overpopulation of veterinarians. The debate seems like a de- cade ago, but it was July 2014 and the trio on the other side repre- sented the majority of veterinari- ans who believed that the United States faced a dangerous overpop- ulation of veterinarians and that we needed to cut back on the number of schools and class sizes. Under- graduates needed to be warned that choosing a veterinary career was the wrong bet. I couldn't have disagreed more with that view, and I challenged it, but it was the culmination of six years of the veterinary establish- ment's lamenting that the sky was falling. Little did they all know the argument already was over, and they lost (thankfully). More People Have Pets The key was demographics. Six- ty-five percent of American house- holds owned pets — it's now 68 percent — and the U.S. popula- tion was rising, unlike peer coun- tries Japan, Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and even China. If America kept grow- ing, then how could we imagine that we needed fewer, rather than more, veterinarians? Better yet, despite our best efforts to convince pet owners of the value of regular veterinary care, we knew that at least 40 percent of pets did not visit a veterinary annually. Which meant that we had unmet demand, which logic tells us calls for more veterinarians. What kind of message would the profession have sent to the public if we announced that veter- inarians wanted to shrink supply? You didn't have to be an economist to know that doing this would mean higher prices and that veter- inarians were more worried about income than providing quality care to pets who needed it. Demographic benefits were not limited to overall population growth. Millennials were hitting the workforce post-college and repre- sented the largest demographic block in the country, even larger than baby boomers. And guess what? Millennials wanted pets and wanted more veterinarians to pro- vide guidance and care, and they were prepared to delay buying a home and getting married if it meant they would have to delay having a pet. This bonanza, coupled with overall U.S. economic growth, drove pet ownership and demand for veterinarians even higher. But we're not done. We also began to take notice that pet owners, especially millen - nials, wanted instant, 24/7 access to veterinary advice, so we discov- ered the value of digital tools and telemedicine in an effort led by the Veterinary Innovation Council. This meant opportunity for more veteri- narians and veterinary staff. All this took place as more and more articles told the story of Let's get to work What does the pet health care industry want to do about acute shortages of veterinarians and nurses?

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