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Dr. Shane Daigle Talks About The State Of Veterinary Medicine in the US

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Dr. Shane Daigle

Dr. Shane Daigle is the owner of Graef Veterinary Hospital in Taylor, Texas, providing comprehensive veterinary care to pets in the Greater Austin area.  “Being respectful, compassionate, prompt, professional and accessible at all times, is the key to our success,” says Daigle.

Dr. Shane Daigle was born and raised in Vinton, Louisiana, a small town of about 2,200 residents in Southwest Louisiana about seven miles from the border with Texas.  Daigle grew up on a cattle ranch and knew from a young age that he wanted to be a Veterinarian.

Dr. Shane Daigle attended Louisiana State University in 1991 for his undergraduate Zoology degree then went on to attend Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1995, graduating in 1999.

As companion-animal ownership grows to 71 million households in the United States (a 4% increase in 2020), so does the need for veterinarians. But what’s the best type of practice? Is it better to own a veterinary practice or work as an associate? Public or private? And where’s the best place to work?

All of these questions can be answered with a closer look at veterinary medicine and developments in the animal health care industry in the U.S.

We are lucky to have a chance to speak to Dr. Shane Daigle and get some insights into the state of veterinary medicine in the United States. 

Veterinary Careers and Opportunities for Growth

There are a number of paths open to a university graduate with a DVM degree. The choices include, but are not limited to:

  • Private Practice
  • Federal Government Agencies (Like the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture… the largest employer of veterinarians in the country), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or NIH (National Institutes of Health)
  • Corporate Veterinary Medicine (animal testing and commercial animal care)
  • U.S. Army / U.S. Air Force (working-dog medicine)
  • Teaching
  • Food Safety (epidemiological research)
  • Public Health (zoonotic disease research)
  • Public Policy (working with government agencies)
  • Shelter Practice (ASPCA and other animal shelters)

Although each of these niches holds unique opportunities for Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, private practice has demonstrated exponential growth and promise.

Those veterinarians who specialize in companion-animal care earn the highest incomes overall, led by those who own their own practices ($162K in 2016). Associate practitioners in the companion-animal niche, on the other hand, only earned $66K to $90K in 2016.

Of all practice owners, those treating food-source animals earned the least at $92K, while veterinarians treating large and small animals claimed a mean income of $134K.

79% of associate veterinarians worked for private practices in 2017 and found the best earning potential in densely populated, affluent areas. Of those associates, 80% were surgeons and performed general medicine.

Small to medium practices generally earn most of their revenue from wellness visits, while larger practices rely on laboratory services for the majority of their income.

The largest legal form growth in veterinary practices from 2010 to 2016 was in not-for-profit organizations, with a total increase of 31%. Partnerships only expanded by 9%, while S Corporations experienced 23% growth.

Conversely, 2010 through 2016 saw a 23% decrease in sole proprietorship veterinary practices. Corporations saw the most fluctuation, with a 2% rise for the three years following 2010, and then a 14% drop in the three years leading up to 2016.

The size of veterinary practices has revealed a trend, as well. Those retaining ten or more associates and/or staff members saw significant increases from 2010 to 2016.

In summary, companion-animal veterinarians who own their own practices, employing ten or more people, in prosperous urban and suburban areas earn the highest salaries of all animal health practitioners.

Demographics for the Veterinary Profession

From 2007 to 2017, the veterinary industry in the U.S. realized a massive 32% growth and expects to employ 124,257 veterinarians by 2027. Once a male-dominated trade, most veterinarians are now women, and numbers are on the rise. Currently, 70% of veterinarians are female, and that’s up from 60% just four short years ago.

The bulk of practitioners are Millennials—35% and growing.

With these shifts in demographics come promising cultural shifts. Mental health and wellbeing are more cared-for than ever, and a focus on thriving in the workplace is helping young animal healthcare workers to further build the industry in a positive manner.

Veterinary Practices’ Economic Influence

Animal healthcare services improve the economic condition of communities, and the proof is in the numbers.

Across the United States, more than 825,000 jobs are either directly or indirectly created by veterinary medicine. More than half of those positions are inside veterinary practices, while one-fourth are stimulated by veterinary medicine and one-fifth indirectly relate to animal healthcare.

In 2016, those jobs created $18.5B in direct labor income, $18.8B in private practice value, $38.4B in output, federal revenue of $4.6B and state revenue of $4.7B.

The Developing Role of Veterinarians

Owning a private veterinary practice holds the most earning potential and is a highly visible, familiar form of animal medicine. One effect of the Covid-19 pandemic was an increase in demand for companion animals. This equates to a greater need for pet care.

“However, companion-animal medicine is not the only option for a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine,” explains Dr. Shane Daigle.

“Veterinarians work to control foodborne and zoonotic illnesses. They test products to ensure animal and human safety. They write public policy and work to find homes for displaced animals. They also work with various corporations and agencies to ensure that animals within those establishments are safe and healthy. I see veterinary medicine getting gobbled up by more and more corporate groups and capital investors. I see the value in staying true to who we are and what we are because we do it better than the corporate guys.”