The current pressures on the veterinary profession to meet the needs of society are profound, domestically and internationally. The shortage of veterinarians and paraprofessional support staff presents a threat to food security and safety, zoonotic disease surveillance, and pharmaceutical research. Veterinary schools struggle to hire and retain clinicians to train the next generation of veterinarians. Veterinary schools struggle to hire and retain clinicians to train the next generation of veterinarians. Veterinary colleges struggle to hire and retain qualified veterinary clinicians to train the next generation of veterinary professionals. Many people do not think of these workforce sectors when considering what a veterinarian actually does.
Most people think of clinical veterinarians. Clinical veterinary practice includes the care of dogs, cats and horses, exotic animals and pet birds, zoo animals, and food animals, and has many of the same specialties like cardiology, ophthalmology, surgery and oncology, etc. just as in human medicine. All require years of advanced training beyond veterinary school and greuling certification examinations. Yet the subsequent debit load is not adequately mitigated by professional income as it is in human medicine. The suicide rate among veterinarians is the one of the highest among professionals. And many veterinarians are just leaving the profession.
What are the needs of society in 2023 for veterinary services?
This is the Veterinary Hippocratic Oath taken by all veterinarians in the United States for the last 54 years:
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.
"Multi-Disciplinary Life Science Professionals"
Is there a massive mismatch between today's current needs for veterinary services and the systemic structures that determine how veterinarians are able to function in society? Perhaps. The mismatch could be what is causing all the stress on the system and the individuals trying to function in the system. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations calls veterinarians the "multi-disciplinary life science professionals" and calls on them to take a leadership position to address the global societal problems around animals and public health.
Incremental stepwise change will not meet the current demands in a timely manner, especially when considering how to prevent the next pandemic, one that could perhaps be spread from poultry to humans, or even worse, from dogs or cats to humans.