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Impact of Recruitment and Retention of Food Animal Veterinarians on the U.S. Food Supply - Determining How Many Veterinarians are in the Workforce is Trickier Than You Think

Food animal veterinarians (FAVs) are vital for the health and well-being of our nation's food supply, but the profession faces challenges that are not well understood, which ultimately impacts the workforce's ability to recruit and retain professionals.

"FAVs are key to providing the world with a safe and secure food supply," says Dr. Christine Navarre, DVM, MS, DACVIM, of Louisiana State University. "They work directly with producers to ensure the health and welfare of food producing animals as well as working in food safety and other public health areas."

Navarre recently chaired a task force addressing the issue in a new paper published by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). She, along with other veterinary scientists and experts, focused on two themes affecting the profession: economic and social factors.

The authors describe economic challenges as changes in the agricultural industry that affect supply and demand. The latter are often informed by available databases, for example, the American Veterinary Medical Association's membership database, which represents 82 percent of U.S. veterinarians. However, it is difficult to determine how many individuals in the database work with food-producing animals due to missing or outdated self-reported information.

Other inconsistencies also cause issues in workforce studies that are often used to inform the amount of FAV professionals in the workforce and how many are needed. "A lack of detailed employment data, differences in methodology and an ever-changing animal agricultural landscape make predicting how many FAVs are needed difficult," Navarre says.

Social factors also influence students' and professional veterinarians' choices for where and what they practice. Among the top social challenges include the student's income-to-debt ratio, which is considerably high for FAVs. Many veterinarians also cite the lack of support in rural agricultural communities among the barriers that curb them from this type of work. For example, veterinarians with spouses tend to search for communities that are capable of providing a career for their significant other.

While there are challenges to building a strong FAV workforce, the CAST paper's authors outline strategies that may increase recruitment and retention for the profession.

"Despite the difficulties, FAVs and the producers they serve are innovative and adaptable, and will find ways to keep providing for the health and welfare of food animals and producing safe and affordable food," Navarre says.

The paper, Impact of Recruitment and Retention of Food Animal Veterinarians on the U.S. Food Supply, is available to download for free on the CAST website.