More than half of all veterinary students are pursuing careers in companion animal medicine, leaving other veterinary sectors—including food safety and zoonotic disease prevention—facing potential shortages of qualified veterinarians, according to a new report from the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science.
“The fact that 60% of all infectious diseases in humans are of animal origin and 75% of emerging infection diseases in the last decade arose from animals underscores the importance of maintaining expertise in other areas of veterinary medicine.”
Alan Kelly, BSc, BVSc, PhD
“Longstanding job vacancies, a looming wave of retirements, declining programmatic support for animal research, and reports of too few positions in key agencies raise questions about the ability of the government to achieve its missions to ensure food safety and prevent and respond to infectious diseases of animals and humans,” said the 320-page report, written by the Committee to Assess the Current and Future Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine.
“The fact that 60% of all infectious diseases in humans are of animal origin and 75% of emerging infection diseases in the last decade arose from animals underscores the importance of maintaining expertise in other areas of veterinary medicine,” said Alan Kelly, BVSc, MRCVS, PhD, chair of the committee and emeritus professor of pathology and pathobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
The report, jointly sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, makes a series of recommendations for addressing this and other potential workforce shortages in the veterinary field. For example, it suggests shortening the length of veterinary education by combining the DVM degree with other advanced degrees, such as the MPH or PhD degree, or by reducing pre-veterinary education requirements.
On the food safety front, the report recommended that veterinary medical organizations and colleges should work to better position those working in the field as leaders in addressing global food security. It called for establishing a “One Health think tank” aimed at advancing food-animal husbandry and welfare policies.
“A part of this body should also consider the necessary competencies required of U.S. veterinary graduates to address the global challenges of food and water safety and security, and the health of wildlife and ecosystems.”
The findings are available online. The final product will be available through the National Academies Press sometime during the summer.