The veterinary medical profession exists in a dynamic environment to which it must relate. The economic and cultural contexts are deeply inter-related. Without question, economic stratification, race and ethnicity are connected. Thus the future relevance and economic vitality of the multiple facets of veterinary medicine will be definitively affected by changing demographics. In addition, veterinary medicine, along with engineering, business, law, medicine and other professional pursuits in American life, has an obligation to take an active role in addressing the socio-economic betterment of all facets of the population.
According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2050, the population in the United States is expected to double with Asian Americans experiencing the largest percent increase. Indications of this are suggested by recent U.S. Census Bureau projections, which predict that by 2050 Americans will not only be somewhat older and less white, but also considerably more Latino and Asian.
Population projections for Latinos suggest even more dramatic shifts in the United States’ racial makeup. In 1999, the Latino population reached 31.4 million, or 12 percent of the overall population. By 2050, it is likely the Latino population will be 98.2 million, or 24 percent of the overall population, making them the nation’s largest minority group. And by the end of the 21st century, it is estimated that one of every three people in the United States or just over 30 percent of the population will be Latino (Janet Dang & Randolph Schmid).
The Bureau projected that the numbers of foreign-born Americans will double between now and 2050, growing from 26.0 million to 53.8 million. According to projections white (non-Latino) and African American populations are likely to increase slower than Asians and Latinos during this period.
The white population is anticipated to increase from 196.1 million in 1999 to 213.0 million in 2050, a 9 percent increase. Percentage-wise however, the non-Latino white population is anticipated to drop from 72 % in 1999 to 53% of the total by 2050. While the black population is likely to rise from 33.1 million in 1999 to 53.5 million in 2050, a 62 % increase, under this projection the black share of the total population only will increase from 12.1 % to 13.2 %.
The data also suggest that within the context of an aging population the minority population will tend to be younger than the Caucasian population, this being especially true for Latinos and Asians. The projections show an especially rapid surge in the elderly population as the surviving baby boomers become seniors. In 2011, baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 will begin turning 65. Between 2011 and 2030, the number of elderly would thus rise from 40.4 million (13 percent of the population) to 70.3 million (20 percent of the population). Moreover, by 2100 the median age is expected to be 40.3, compared to the current median age of 35.8. And the population of those over 100 years old will grow to 5.3 million, 0.9 percent of the overall population, according to Census Bureau projections.
These demographics inevitably will impact market and other priorities within veterinary medicine and will heavily influence the supply of future veterinarians. These changes also will impact strongly the political and policy environment within which the profession serves its stakeholders. It follows that veterinary medicine’s role as a vital force in society is in danger if the profession does not incorporate the perspectives of multiple minority groups into its own collective culture and planning for the future.
Demographics In Veterinary Medicine
Each College of Veterinary Medicine has its own individual concerns and challenges; but one stands out as universal: the fact that the student population falls far short of reflecting the current ethnic and racial diversity of the population of the United States. All schools are working to address these issues, but there is no single, simple solution. Lack of diversity in veterinary schools/colleges has existed since the first one opened in the United States.
With changing demographics come concerns about how future veterinarians will provide service for increasing minority populations. The most recent data indicates that veterinary medicine students currently are comprised of 5% Hispanic, 2% African American, 1% Asian/Pacific Islander and less that 1% Native American with the balance of more than 90% being Caucasian. These numbers clearly show that the veterinary profession does not reflect the United States population racially. Thus the veterinary profession does not reflect the growing multicultural state of society in either its membership or its leadership, nor has it proactively explored ways to more effectively serve an increasingly diverse client base.
Issues related to the demographics
Within the context of the demographics of the United States, several important factors contribute to the characteristics of the collective student body in colleges of veterinary medicine. Some apply to all students, while others are more typically found to affect students from under-represented minority groups. Factors contributing to the small participation rate of under-represented minorities in veterinary medicine have been explored by a limited number of authors (Elmore, 2003, 2004: Kendall, 2004)
“One of the biggest concerns of veterinary students has been the on-going problem of student debt and ever-increasing tuition. This relates to debt at graduation compared to entry level earning power. Obviously, students that enter colleges of veterinary medicine with greater financial need are the most likely to have larger debt at graduation. This issue exists within the context of economic characteristics of the veterinary profession. In 1999, the KPMG “Mega Study” found that stagnant real income, adjusted for inflation, was the most significant issue facing veterinarians, showing that their incomes have fallen in real terms while those of physicians and dentists have experienced considerable growth. It would seem logical that all economic strata among minority populations would be aware that veterinarians make less than other doctors and this may influence the choices of potential minority veterinary students by influencing them to enter human medicine or some other pursuit outside the life sciences that has a more favorable debt to income ratio.” (Kendall, 2004) This may not be a life style perspective shared by minority groups, especially given that the mean household income in 2001 for Whites was $44,500 compared with $29.470 for Blacks and $33,570 for Hispanics (U.S. Census Bureau). Although non-adjusted veterinary income has increased by 29% from 1998 to 2002, according to the US Department of Labor statistics, student debt has also risen by 27%, from $60,000 to $73,000, over the same period.
It should be noted that the American Veterinary Medical Association has focused on remuneration in the profession as a major issue. This undoubtedly has contributed to increasing income of veterinary medical professionals as noted above. However, despite that increased income, clearly the debt at graduation problem is the responsibility of veterinary medical education and the university context in which it exists.
These facts have different implications for students of color than for their majority counterparts. In addition to having lower household income levels, domestic minority families have, as a cultural characteristic, an aversion to debt as compared to Caucasians. This has major implications for recruitment and planning for incorporation of borrowing into financing post-secondary education.
It should emphasized that the aging Caucasian population will depend on a younger minority population to finance Social Security and Medicare to a significant extent. In addition there are many societal trends that must be accounted for in solidifying the future success of the veterinary medical profession. Important among these are the emerging changes in priorities and worldviews related to cultural differences among racial and ethnic groups.
Multiple theories have been proposed to explain the lack of diversity within the profession. However it is obvious that there are not many veterinarians of color practicing in the United States. The paucity of demographic information makes it harder for researchers to provide readers with accurate information.
Animal ownership values
Animal ownership is a very important aspect of today’s society. Several studies have established that there are cultural and ethnic differences in attitudes about animals. (Kellert, 1996; Elmore, 2003, 2004)
Looking to the future, statistics reveal the extent to which differing worldviews about animal ownership will impact veterinary medicine more intensely as society continues to grow. Veterinary medicine will be in need of more participants from non-white, non-Latino cultures. Inevitably this will necessitate cultural adaptations within the veterinary medical profession.
Many individuals, according to personal communication, believe the differences in animal ownership are due to economic stratification. Certainly this has a profound effect. However value systems about animal ownership vary widely around the world and to a lesser extent in the United States. Some people of color (personal communication) assert that they value animals as pets but not at the “family member” level characteristic of a growing number of whites.
Animal ownership varies in importance among cultures. Statistical information supports that fact. A recent report indicated that Whites are 10% more likely to own a dog than the average American, whereas Blacks are 56%, Asians 35%, and Hispanics 21% less likely to own a dog. (Elmore, 2003)
In sum, with a shrinking percentage of Whites in the population who also are aging faster than the collective minority population, an increased number of minority people are going to be an essential part of veterinary medicine’s long term future. This will necessitate distinct and important cultural adaptation.