Veterinary Shortage: Perceived or Real?

Published on: 07:28AM Nov 15, 2010

There is a lot of conversation on the shortage of veterinarians in food animal production, particularly beef. And the wheels are in motion to put programs in place to alleviate this issue. There are loan relief programs for “areas of need," increasing class sizes, etc. However within the veterinary community this is not a black and white, open and shut case. 

In fact the majority of practitioners that I come into contact with would agree that the “shortage” may be perceived and not real. Could it be the bovine veterinary practices are going through a transition similar to the rest of agriculture? That practices will become larger and cover wider areas? If so should we try to resist this change by putting programs in place to put practices back in areas where they cannot exist without loan aide? 

There are several things in play here. First we need to define shortage. Who determines a shortage? In this case it is not economically evident that there is a shortage, meaning the average salary of a veterinarian is not climbing astronomically. If this were the case then capitalism would correct itself as salaries go up more practitioners would enter the field. 
Some producers may feel there is a shortage when they cannot get a practitioner to come on demand. Similar to when I have a flat in a small community late at night and there is no longer a station in every small town. I feel like there is a shortage of tire changing operations but this does not mean it is economically feasible to put one in each town. The shortage or loss of practices may be from lack of demand not allowing them to be able to exist.
The question may come down to be: is veterinary care a need that needs to be subsidized so it can exist in areas that are not economically able to support it? This is done in human medicine routinely – not done as much for tire stores! 
It is a slippery slope when we start to subsidize an industry by granting loan relief to some and not to all dictating that the playing field is no longer equal and capitalism is not longer left to develop industry and dictate what levels it should be present.