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Industry experts concerned about creation of mid-level veterinary position

Katarzyna Ferry, Wendy
Posted at 9:42 PM, Apr 17, 2023

LITTLETON, Colo. — Dr. Will French has been a veterinarian at Littleton Equine Medical Center for over a decade. He also served as the president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), which represents veterinary professionals across the state.

A workforce crisis hit the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic when demand for care went up.

"People were staying home, paying more attention to their animals and wanting to give them more care,” he said.

A study by Mars Veterinary Health found that without any solutions, by 2030, the U.S. will have 15,000 fewer veterinarians than it needs, leaving 75 million pets without proper care.

To ease the shortage, the Vet Care Coalition is pushing for the creation of a mid-level veterinary professional associate (PA), like a physician assistant in human medicine. That person would work under the supervision of a veterinarian.

“We need pet owners who want this care and need this care to help speak up and talk about the need to have more access, and a veterinary PA is the way to do that,” said Steele.

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Apryl Steele, president and CEO of the Dumb Friends League, told Denver7 last month she supports the creation of such a position.

"There's no state right now that would allow a veterinary PA. Colorado is leading the way in this conversation,” Steele said last month.

However, French says now is not the right time for that.

"Right now, there is no accreditation for a potential mid-level practitioner program. And there's no national competency for these mid-level practitioners,” he said.

Instead, French believes better utilization of veterinary technicians will help decrease wait times.

"Veterinary technicians are very well educated across a number of different disciplines — anesthesia, surgery help, all the way from helping from nursing care, administering medications,” said French.

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Applications at veterinary schools are at an all-time high, according to French, but the problem is retention.

"More veterinary technicians and other staff are leaving than actual veterinarians,” he said.

He stresses under-utilization and a lack of job satisfaction are big reasons.

"The American Veterinary Medical Association is very interested in this question. So there will be more conversations about this for years to come,” he said.

In a statement, Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie said she would introduce such legislation once a bill comes forward and "has the support of all the stakeholders who work tirelessly to care for our animals.

“For months, I have been encouraging members working on this policy to continue conversations in the hope of reaching a compromise and bringing a bill forward together that increases access to safe, high quality veterinary care. I know Representative McCormick has drafted legislation based on a stakeholder process that took place over the interim, and I appreciate the policies that other members who care about this issue have developed," the statement reads. "Once legislation comes forward that has the support of all the stakeholders who work tirelessly to care for our animals, I will introduce it."

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