Locals say national projections for more veterinarians is exaggerated

BY JENNY EARL | APRIL 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Allan Berger, a local veterinarian, spent most of his Wednesday morning in surgery — mending the broken leg of a pit bull who had been hit by a car.

Berger saw the same pit bull the night before, along with two other dogs hit by cars, one with a twisted leg, one with an injured back, a vomiting cat, a dog with an allergic reaction, and even a dog diagnosed with cancer.

"I would say that's a typical overnight emergency, followed by care the next day," said Berger, a veterinarian for Bright Eyes and Bushy Tails Veterinary Hospital, 3030 Northgate Drive.

But even with the typical busy nights, Berger said he doesn't feel Johnson County's only 24-hour animal hospital is understaffed.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported an expected 36 percent increase in the number of veterinarians from 2010 to 2020 — an increase local veterinarians say is exaggerated.

"At this moment in time, I don't think there's a need for more," Berger said. "If I put an advertisement out that I [am] hiring a veterinarian, I will get two dozen applications, and many of those will be veterinarians who are unemployed in Iowa."

Currently, Iowa is listed as one of the states with the highest concentration of animal health-related jobs, employing 1,040 in 2011.

Officials don't expect that number to increase drastically.

Tom Johnson, executive director for the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, said the predicted national increase could be a result of retiring "baby boomer" veterinarians in the next decade.

Officials have noticed a slight increase in the interest of veterinary medicine in the state.

Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the only public veterinary school in Iowa, recently expanded its class sizes, and it is receiving more qualified applicants than it has space for, Johnson said.

The ISU veterinary school increased enrollment by 25 students last year — from 125 to 150.

Rachel Allbaugh, assistant professor of ophthalmology at ISU Veterinary Clinical sciences, said having more veterinarians is always beneficial.

"Everyone pictures veterinarians as 'James Herriot' — all creatures great and small doctors," she said. "In reality, veterinarians have all kinds of different roles."

Johnson said Iowa veterinarians need to fill these roles in fields such as food and animal safety, disease control, and public health.

Johnson noted the existence of a shortage of veterinarians working with food animals — ones raised to be slaughtered for meat products — in relation to the increase in the number of livestock.

Approximately 70 to 75 percent of new diseases diagnosed are zoonotic disease — a disease contagious between humans and animals. Johnson said veterinarians are needed to monitor diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans.

But veterinary officials aren't sure if the job market will keep up with the increasing supply of veterinarians.

Berger said the number of visits to veterinary hospitals has been declining — his business included — and that he's been noticing a flat rate of patients seen per month.

"I think there will be that many more veterinarians. That is already the case," Berger said. "That remains to be seen whether there will be that many new jobs."

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