How many ways can America address the acute shortage of Veterinary professionals? I count five (5), and while we list these, let’s explore what it takes to make this happen.

#1—Increase class sizes of current accredited Veterinary schools.

We have 33 accredited Veterinary programs in the United States, plus two large accredited Caribbean schools with over 90% American students: Ross and St. George’s. These two programs produce more American DVMs than any of the current roster of U.S. schools. A smaller third Caribbean program, St. Mathews, is pursuing accreditation by the U.S. accrediting body, the Council on Education (COE).

Lincoln Memorial University increased its annual class size to 225 and is the largest U.S.-based program. Many of the remaining 32 U.S. programs have recently added students or are considering such a move. These expansions require COE approval and requests usually are granted. Readers should assume that these expansions steadily will continue over the next five years, with the key gatekeeping item being the physical capacity of land grant teaching hospitals to train students in the final, clinical year.

#2—Accredit new programs.

Your author has been involved as a consultant in the accreditation of four new programs and multiple class size expansions. Currently, at least 10 institutions are in the process of pursuing COE accreditation for new DVM programs. Most of these programs will offer distributive clinical training rather than build teaching hospitals on campus, although some may pursue a hybrid approach. The greatest cost for opening a new Veterinary program is a teaching hospital, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most new programs are choosing to train through the distributive model, which has done well so far by its graduates.

I’m working with six of the new programs and can only share the outline of the accreditation process so readers understand timelines and potential decisive factors. New programs involve at least two site visits by the COE, accompanied by extensive self-studies. A few consultative sites visits have taken place, but the majority will take place in the second half of 2024 and potentially in early 2025. The initial site visits are followed up by a comprehensive site visit 12-20 months after the consultative visit. The comprehensive site visit and self-study are decisive. New schools typically open up within 6-9 months of approval after the comprehensive site visit.

What this means is the entering classes are likely to start in 2026 and 2027, with a possibility of late 2025. New graduates will enter the marketplace in 2029 if the programs are three years rather than four years in length. Every program must cover nine semesters, but this may be achieved in three calendar years if summers are not treated as vacations.

#3—Approve mid-level professionals for animal healthcare.

Debate continues to brew over plans to follow precedents from human healthcare and establish professionals resembling Physician Assistants of Nurse Practitioners. These providers have a 60-year track record in human care and would fill the gap in Veterinary medicine between two-year (post high school) Associate Degree credentialed Veterinary technicians/nurses (RVT, LVT, CVT) and eight-year (post high school) DVMs. Readers should expect discussion, debate, and implementation efforts to intensify over the next two to three years.

#5—Expand scope of practice for credentialed Veterinary technicians/nurses . . . and complete licensure in all 50 states.

Vet techs want to do more so that all of the skills and expertise certified by the VTNE (national board exam administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards) are put to use. The more we allow qualified vet techs to do, the greater the financial reward for vet techs (and their retention) and more care is available for our pets and large animals. The path to expansion of the scope of practice for our non-DVM professionals involves a combination of legislative and state board actions. Most of all, this requires the veterinarian trade associations to step up in support.

As with mid-level professionals and telemedicine, this step takes one state to lead the way and provide a model. Readers should expect action here, as well, in the near term. Lincoln Memorial University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is the only program offering an equivalent Master’s Degree in Veterinary Clinical Care. This program provides a precedent or model of what a Veterinary PA program could look like.

The Telemedicine VCPR

I’ve written often about the case for Veterinary medicine adopting telemedicine models approved in all 50 states for human healthcare. All I add here is that we have thousands of licensed and qualified veterinarians in America who are not practicing in private clinics or shelters. The clamor for remote work opportunities did not die down after COVID receded, and companion animal Veterinary shortages could be ameliorated if we open the door to telemedicine with guardrails as recently approved by legislatures in Arizona, California, and Florida.

One hundred and eight (108) million Americans live in states where the initial relationship with a veterinarian may be established virtually through video technologies, so two-thirds of our country remains on the sidelines. Soon, most if not all, of these jurisdictions will face this choice.