The AMVA recognizes 41 distinct specialties, so if you do decide to pursue specialization there are plenty of options to choose from. Before making that decision, you’ll want to consider what that will mean for you both as a practitioner and a business owner.
As a general practice veterinarian, you’ll find yourself treating a wide variety of conditions each day within your community. Where you are located will help determine what types of patients you see. If you are in the city or busy suburbs, you’ll likely see more companions or pets. In rural areas, you may see a combination of pets and livestock. You’ll treat the more common conditions of your patients, prescribe medications, vaccinate, and you’ll also be there to offer advice and support to owners on the care and feeding. Euthanizing animals might also be a service that you provide in your general practice and each day will look quite different from the one before.
If you choose to open a specialized practice, your focus can be more narrow than if you are in general practice, but not necessarily less diverse. You may see only certain species, like an avian specialist; specialize in an area of the body, such as an ophthalmologist; or, focus your efforts on behavioral health. Each specialty brings its own challenges and rewards.
If you are looking to be hired by someone else as a specialist, it can be a good time to specialize. Private practices and institutions of higher education are looking to hire more specialists, but having trouble finding enough. Specialists make up a fraction of all veterinarians: just 13,000 of the 111,000+ veterinarians in the U.S., according to a September 2018 report from the AVMA.
When statistical analyst Charlotte Hanson spoke at the 2018 AVMA Economic Summit she shared, “We see increases in (veterinary) salaries, veterinary unemployment is below the national level, …and we have more jobs than there are applicants applying for those positions. …” Robin Brogdon of BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group states that specialists in oncology, neurology, and cardiology tend to be in short supply in most places. The demand for veterinarians continues to grow across the board, and with few exceptions, specialized practitioners are seeing even more demand for their services.
With overall demand for veterinarians expected to exceed the average growth of the job market, choosing to be a general practitioner vs being a specialist shouldn’t impact your ability to get a job as a veterinarian.
Thinking you’d like to open your own practice or partnership? There are certain elements you’ll need to include that will be common across any type of practice:
But the specifics for some of those elements will be very different, depending on your practice type. Imaging a parakeet’s skull and that of an elephant require quite different MRI equipment. If you choose to specialize in orthopedic surgery, your orthopedic and arthroscopic equipment needs will be much more extensive than if you were in a general practice. You’ll want to consider and take this into account as you decide whether to open a specialty practice or not.
You’ll also want to consider how your practice focus affects your hiring. If you are specializing, you may want your vet tech to have specific skills too. Some of these may need to be taught by you, while others may be skills they receive through an accredited program. This will impact your budgeting for your staffing.
Finally, deciding if specialization is right for your veterinary practice is a decision not to be made lightly. Getting your board certification and creating a practice that supports your efforts will take an investment of effort, time and money. And if you are changing an existing practice, potentially even your layout. Talk with your trusted advisors and weigh each of these factors as you decide the best choice for you.