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No PAs Needed

By Steve Dale, CABC

I suggest the need for PA’s (physicians assistants) in veterinary medicine is misguided, at least right now. We already have the talent and expertise with licensed, certified and registered veterinary technicians/nurses.

I do agree that clearly something must be done. Here’s just some of the data sparked by the pandemic: 67 percent of American homes now have at least one pet.1 That’s an all-time high for companion animals. And while folks were very busy bringing furry, feathered and scaly family members in their homes, there was something of a mass exodus of veterinarians, citing compassion fatigue and wanting an improved work-life balance, not to mention the retirees (including many early retirements as in many professions). 2

However, even in 2018 there was a six percent shortage of veterinarians. The pandemic only sped up the inevitable.2

Today, clients in many areas of the country have a challenging time making timely appointments for pets who they feel are sick or even for routine care. It’s no secret that 24- hour clinics are often overwhelmed, with waiting times extending past several hours and facilities often closing for the evening at 8 p.m.

Letting it ride with the status quo is definitely not an answer. With 13% of companion animal veterinarians being over 65 years old another 26% between 56 and 65 years old, by 2030 many of these will be retired. So another 18,050 more companion animal veterinarians will be needed by 2030 to accommodate anticipated retirements. To meet today’s projected need for pet healthcare in 2030, nearly 41,000 veterinarians will need to enter companion animal practices. (22,909 to fill in for growth in the market plus 18,050 to fill for the retirees). It’s true, there will be 26,00 new graduates by 2030 but that doesn’t fill the void.3

Meanwhile, pet ownership is expected to continue to build (though at a slower rate than during the frenzy of the pandemic). 4

I agree – something must be done!

There are many proposed long-term solutions, ranging from increasing vet school class sizes to attracting more people into the profession, and the notion of a version of PAs for vet practices.

Reality is that this all-new professional position would take years to establish. Why not simply utilize certified, licensed and registered veterinary technicians/nurses to their highly trained capabilities? And there does NEED to be a way to support a pay to increase.

Right now, certified, licensed, registered technicians already have commensurate training to whatever the job description would wind up being for a veterinary PA. Why attempt to recreate what already can exist?

Maybe in the long-run a veterinary PA position may make sense….But first, before even considering this significant move, I suggest the profession fully employ existing expertise and with increased  pay. Now, more would be attracted to the veterinary technician/nurse profession in the first place, and fewer will leave it.

1 Pet Ownership Statistics, March 2022

2Bain B., Hansen C. Ouedraogo F. Salois M, 2019 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession, Veterinary Economics Division, American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL, August, 2019

3 Bain B., Hansen C. Ouedraogo F. Salois M, 2020 Economic State of the Veterinary Profession, Veterinary Economics Division, American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL, August, 2020.

4 American Veterinary Medical Association, December 2020 Pet Populations Are on the Way Up