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Volume 21, Number 2 Fall, 1994

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James N. Ross, DVM, PhD and J. Karl Wise, PhD

The Program Committee for the 13th Symposium on Veterinary Medical Education made the decision that additional information about the current status of post-DVM programs and the impact on individual careers was needed as a base of knowledge for participants in the 13th Symposium. Thus, the Committee sponsored a research survey to be conducted by Dr. Karl Wise and staff of the AVMA Center for Information Management (CIM). The CIM conducted the proposed survey as part of its Biennial Economic Survey program in the period January-March, 1994.

The primary objective of the survey was to assess the perceptions or attitudes about post-DVM education and training among veterinarians in government, industry, academia, and other specialty employment. Among the specific items to be addressed were attitudes about the training itself; motivating factors for such training; career related issues such as job changes, income, job satisfaction and adequacy of training for present job; and job opportunities in each area of endeavor.

The survey sample was a stratified disproportionate semi-random sample of 6,900 U.S. veterinarians distributed as follows: 1,200 academia; 1,200 industry; 2,100 government (federal, state, and local); 1,200 specialty practice; 1,200 private clinical practice. This latter group was included to provide comparisons with a group that would have a low incidence of formal, post-DVM education. Veterinarians from academia, industry, government, and private practice were selected at random from the AVMA membership master file. Lists of veterinarians in specialty employment were provided by nine of the AVMA-recognized specialty boards, representing approximately 40% of all veterinary specialists. These veterinarians were included in the samples according to employment sector. Response samples of approximately 500 veterinarians have a statistical error of approximately +/- 5%.

The Symposium Program Committee delegated to a sub-committee (Drs. J. Ross, K. Prasse and J. Welser) the task of collaborating with CIM staff to prepare a survey questionnaire. The survey involved two mailings: 1) the survey packet was mailed including a personalized and signed letter, questionnaire, postage-paid business reply envelope, and a response confirmation post-card; 2) a reminder post-card mailed to all non-respondents one week prior to the survey deadline. The survey was conducted from February 1 to March 1, 1994. A total of 3,627 (52%) veterinarians responded to the survey.

General Survey Findings

There were questions in the survey which provided general demographic information about the population of respondents to the questionnaire. The distribution of veterinarians employed in private practice tends to be younger and more female than in government, industry, and academia while the population of veterinarians currently in post-DVM training programs comprises an equal number of male and female veterinarians.

Among the 3,627 respondents, 2% were black/African-American, 3% were Asian or Pacific Islands, 1% was Hispanic, and 93% were white. By employment sector, slightly higher percentages of minority veterinarians were employed in government, and lower percentages of minority veterinarians were employed in industry and private practice.

Master of Science (MS) degrees were held by 31% of respondents, 15% had a Doctorate, and 7% had participated in a post-doctoral program. MS degrees were held by 36% of government veterinarians, 40% of industry veterinarians, and 47% of academic veterinarians. Doctorates were held by 10% of government veterinarians, 25% of industry veterinarians, and 36% of academic veterinarians. With respect to non-degree programs, 35% had an internship or residency certificate, ranging from a low of 12% in government to 65% in academia. Diplomates in AVMA-recognized specialty boards or colleges comprised 35% of the respondents. The percentage ranged from 28% in government to 70% in academia with 42% of industrial veterinarians having diplomate status.

Job Related Issues

Most respondents had supervisory responsibilities. Eighty-one percent supervised at least one person with 59% reporting that they supervise 1-10 individuals, and 22% supervise more than 10 individuals. According to employment sector, 35% of government veterinarians, 23% of industry veterinarians, 14% of private practitioners, and 21% of academic veterinarians supervised more than 10 individuals. This would suggest a strong need for training in management and interpersonal skills.

Income was examined in two dimensions: by employment area and by level of post-DVM education/training. The median 1993 professional income from full-time professional employment was $56,000. By employment sector income figures were: government -$52,000; industry - $78,000; practice - $53,000; academia - $60,000; graduate program -$21,000; other - $67,000. Approximately 50% of all respondents (varied by employment sector) reported a median of $10,000 additional professional income from other sources. With respect to professional income by level of education/training, higher median professional incomes were reported for veterinarians with a PhD degree ($71,000) and specialty board diplomate status ($75,000), than veterinarians with the professional degree (DVM/VMD) only ($52,000) or the DVM and MS only ($57,000).

Job satisfaction appeared to be quite good. The highest percentages of veterinarians indicating a high level of satisfaction, relative to hours worked and income, were for those with the MS degree (69%), post-doctoral level (70%), and specialty board diplomates (71%). By employment sector, industry veterinarians (77%) were most satisfied regarding hours worked and income. This compared to 60% of private practice and academic veterinarians. Nearly 50% of academic veterinarians reported working more than 50 hours/week compared to 14% in government, 36% in industry, and 39% in private practice.

Overall, the availability of jobs in the respondents' areas of employment was indicated as low by 42.9% of veterinarians, moderate by 48.5%, and high by 8.6%. Percentages above the average for high availability were reported by private practitioners and academic veterinarians. Academicians also reported higher than average percentage for low availability of jobs. This may reflect state or regional economic effects.

Respondents appeared to be optimistic about their specific career area as 73% of respondents indicated that future job prospects in their area of employment were stable or expanding. Slightly higher percentages for expansion were reported by veterinarians with a residency certificate and specialty diplomate status. Among the industrial respondents 25% reported expanding job opportunities while government had the highest percentage (35%) reporting a decline. An awareness of specific open positions generally increased with increasing level of post-DVM education and 62% of all respondents were aware of open positions in their field.

The number of job changes since receiving the professional veterinary medical degree increased with advanced degrees and residency and specialty board status by a mean factor of approximately one job. The overall average was 2.6 job changes but the range was quite wide with several individuals reporting over 10 job changes. Respondents also gave reasons for these job changes. The top five reasons were higher salary potential, 45%; past job satisfaction low, 36.9%; changed specialties, practice emphasis, 36.7%; personal interest, 31.8%; and geographic preference, 29.2%. Least frequently mentioned were a desire for increased responsibility, family reasons, and promotion.

Fifteen percent of respondents indicated that they planned to change jobs in the next two years. Approximately 25% of veterinarians with post-doctoral training and internship certificates planned to change jobs within 2 years. However, when analyzed by employment sector, this job change outlook was largely due to veterinarians currently in advanced training programs. Less than 15% of industry and government veterinarians planned a job change in the next 2 years. For all respondents, 70% indicated that the number of jobs requiring formal post-DVM training will increase over the next 10 years; 22% indicated no change; and about 8% indicated there would be a decrease.

Attitudes and Motivating Factors in Post-DVM Program

The leading factor which motivated individuals to undertake post-DVM training was intellectual interest (50%), followed by future job satisfaction (18%). Other factors were important but were more dependent on type/level of training. Thus, scientific contribution was mentioned by 14% of veterinarians with the PhD degree.

Respondents were also asked to identify the three most important deficiencies in their previous training programs. Overall, the top three deficiencies most often mentioned were mentoring availability or quality, 41%; research supply fund availability, 39%; and training for competitive grantsmanship, 41%. Identified as the most important deficiency by 12% of PhD veterinarians was interaction with other disciplines during training. Training for grantsmanship was indicated most often by academicians, whereas funding for research was more important for industry veterinarians and those currently in graduate training programs.

When asked to identify the major deterrents to obtaining post-DVM education, those factors most often ranked as No. 1 were: no personal interest in it, 26%; family obligations, 18%; and employment precluded it, 16%. Two other important factors were lack of financial support, 14%; and personal debt, 10%. Lack of job opportunities and opportunities not geographically nearby were not identified as primary factors preventing most respondents from obtaining post-DVM training.

Certainly a concern of all programs is whether the training or education provided leads to a successful career. Respondents were asked to identify the most important elements that led to their current employment. Please keep in mind that the current job for many of these individuals represents the second or third one since the professional degree. Elements ranked No. 1 included the professional DVM curriculum, 17%; MS and/or PhD program, 13%; and residency program, 12%. Three other factors indicated with nearly equal frequency included personal attributes, 11%; on-the-job training, 11%; and family influence, 10%. If the total response frequency for items identified as being in the top three by all respondents was examined, personal attributes were cited by 59%; on-the-job training, 41%; and the professional curriculum and family influence by 34% and 33%, respectively.

Advanced training does have an economic benefit in salary per year, especially for individuals with the PhD degree or with board certification in a specialty. Mentoring of trainees was considered a weak part of many programs and the recruiting of trainees should give more emphasis to the intellectual challenge of such programs.

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