Veterinary conversations today center around the impact of chronic and acute shortages. Some challenge whether or not the United States faces this problem but, candidly, veterinarians in the field know the situation. And it isn’t encouraging. So if you understand that shortages of veterinarians are real then keep reading.

There are three ways to produce more American veterinarians. Each is important:

1. Increase class sizes of existing U.S. accredited schools.
2. Accredit foreign programs and make these schools attractive to American citizens who want to return home or foreign schools willing to immigrate.
3. Accredit new schools in the United States.

This article will explain how each solution could become a reality, but understand that the biggest bang for our buck will be option 3: open new schools.

Increase Class Sizes of Existing Veterinary Schools

Operational, financial and accreditation challenges face existing programs wanting to increase class sizes. The operational issue is a combination of adequate facilities to accommodate more students and finding the faculty to teach them. The faculty challenge may be the easiest since smaller increases need not trigger the need for more teachers. If 120 students sit in didactic courses (in person or virtually) then it’s possible for 140 students to do the same without triggering the need for an additional instructor. The greater operational challenge is that 28 of the existing 33 accredited schools depend upon teaching hospitals for their clinical year. Most if not all of these teaching hospitals are “filled up”, so it’s not obvious how more students could fit. Schools could add distributive rotations to the clinical year, but this requires a major shift in how schools view clinical training. That leads us to the financial barrier of how schools get the funds to expand, and don’t expect legislatures to step up as the answer (Purdue being the exception). So my advice is to expect modest growth in class sizes along the scale that accreditors (Council on Education) allow automatically.

Accredit Additional Foreign Schools

The COE has accredited a number of foreign veterinary schools: 2 in the Caribbean, 9 in the UK/Europe, 5 in Australia/New Zealand, UNAM in Mexico City and Seoul National in South Korea. These schools all have American students, with Ross and St. George’s at 90+% American with large class sizes, so they already help the shortage. I work with Ross, St. George’s and UNAM and understand the foreign accreditation process. It’s a formidable challenge for non-US schools, but there are many potential programs in locations that could attract US students. However, with the exception of Ross and St. George’s currently, none of the accredited programs have large numbers of US students. We should support any qualified foreign program interested in COE accreditation as these schools will train practitioners for US practices, but it won’t be easy or by itself reach the numbers we need.

Accredit New Schools in the United States

I’m working with six American institutions at different stages of pursuing COE accreditation, so it’s not appropriate for me to discuss individually. Instead, I want to explain to our readers how accreditation of new schools work, and what are realistic timetables.

Step one is a consultative site visit by a COE site visitor team. The first two of these occur this month, but the vast number of new programs will look at consultative sites visits in the second half of 2024. Consultative site visits involve 3-5 days of conversations and tours, and are preceded by an extensive Self-Study due 8 weeks before. Self-studies address each of the 11 accreditation standards. A Dean must be in place before the COE agrees to a consultative site visit, and these visits were made mandatory by the COE in June of 2022. These site visitors are voluntary, unpaid and not voting members of the COE.

The consultative site visit leads to a report by the COE site visit team advising the school of what they like and didn’t like about the proposed new program. Schools then decide whether or not to proceed to the final step of a comprehensive Sell-Study and site visit. This visit determines whether or not a school gets to open a new program.

What’s encouraging is the willingness of the COE to entertain new models or approaches to veterinary education, although this “openness” may be preceded by some battle scars. Western University’s distributive clinical training model was not welcomed with open arms, but now distributive programs are the norm for most new schools (Lincoln Memorial, Long Island, Arizona).

You probably want a forecast of when these schools may open. All I can say is the earliest would be the second half of 2025 and most will look to 2026. So new schools don’t solve today’s problem with shortages, but they will be welcomed by practices on the ground whenever they arrive.