Executive Summary

Publication Details


The biomedical research enterprise has expanded rapidly since 1995 (NRC, 2000), and it is possible that research activity, particularly in neuro-science and transgenic research, which relies heavily on the use of laboratory animals, may have outpaced the supply of veterinarians trained in specialties related to biomedical research. With biomedical research priorities shifting from basic molecular and cellular research to translational research, the importance of animal models and therefore veterinarians skilled in comparative medicine has increased. Bioterrorism has also brought new priorities to bear, in that most potential bioterrorism agents are zoonotic and key to any research team managing animals with zoonotic diseases is the veterinarian. Such anecdotal evidence suggests there is a need for more veterinarians to participate in or support biomedical research, which has prompted a variety of organizations (National Institutes of Health (NIH), American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM), the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Co., and Pfizer, Inc.) to fund a study to investigate what could be done to resolve this perceived shortage of veterinarians in biomedical research.

The Committee on Increasing Veterinary Involvement in Biomedical Research was convened under the auspices of the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research to examine the question: How can more veterinarians* be prepared for careers in biomedical research? The committee was asked to develop strategies for recruiting more veterinarians into postgraduate training programs in specialties that can be applied to the biomedical research endeavor.


In order to develop a comprehensive strategy for recruiting more comparative medicine veterinarians into careers in biomedical research, the authoring committee determined that a detailed examination of the current comparative medicine veterinary workforce was needed, as were projections on the future of this workforce. This type of quantitative examination requires extensive demographic information on the workforce. Unfortunately, the authoring committee found that the majority of the demographic information they sought does not exist. The comparative medicine veterinary workforce is an extremely diverse workforce, with a wide variety of educational and training experiences as well as many different career pathways. Compounding this is the fact that comparative medicine veterinarians comprise a very small portion of any professional categorization, and there is little impetus for any one professional organization or society to expend resources on the types of detailed demographic surveys that exist for other doctoral professionals such as doctors of medicine (MDs), doctors of philosophy (PhDs), and engineers. The committee therefore reaffirms the recommendation of the 1982 National Research Council (NRC) report Specialized Veterinary Manpower Needs Through 1990 (see Appendix A) that:

the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) should expand their data-gathering efforts to collect more information on the veterinary manpower used by the non-private-practice sector. A comprehensive survey of this sector should be conducted in the near future to assist in the development of predictions of employment in areas other than private practice.

For the AVMA in particular, this does not require the creation of new demographic survey methodology as the AVMA could utilize its current methodology for surveying their membership and recent graduates of veterinary medical schools and extend the survey to gather demographic information on the comparative medicine veterinary workforce.

Nevertheless, the committee was charged with developing a set of recommendations for recruiting more veterinarians into careers in biomedical research. The committee therefore relied heavily on the small amount of demographic information available on specific subpopulations of the workforce, such as laboratory animal veterinarians, comparative pathologists, and principal investigators with a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree. The committee's information gathering and deliberations revealed that, though difficult to quantify, there were many indications that there is a shortage of veterinarians participating at all levels in the biomedical research enterprise. Some of the committee's major findings regarding the adequacy of the comparative medicine veterinary workforce include:

  • From 1995 through 2002, the number of NIH-funded competitive grants utilizing animals increased by 31.7%. There were approximately 1,300 more competitive grants utilizing animals in 2002 than in 1995.
  • Approximately 85% of animals utilized in biomedical research are rats and mice. In 1998, it was estimated that 23 million rats and mice were utilized in biomedical research. It is predicted that mouse use alone will continue to increase by 10% to 20% annually over the decade 2000-2010.
  • From 1997 through 2002, the number of active diplomates with board certification in laboratory animal medicine increased by less than 3% annually. This resulted in a total increase from 1997-2002 of 15%.
  • Currently, there are an estimated 1,608 research institutions in the US that are USDA-registered and/or hold NIH assurances indicating those institutions utilize animals in research programs. In contrast, only 666 actively employed individuals held board certification in laboratory animal medicine in 2002.
  • The number of individuals who completed residency training in laboratory animal medicine was 25% lower in 2002 than 1996.
  • The number of active laboratory animal medicine residency programs was the same in 1995 as it was in 2002. Of the 32 currently active programs, 9 of these programs did not have anyone complete a residency from 1996 to 2002.
  • There is an estimated deficit of 67 clinical veterinary pathologists in the US and Canada in 2002. By 2007, this deficit is estimated to increase to 336 positions.
  • In 2001, RO1 grants awarded to principal investigators with a DVM degree comprised only 4.7% of all the NIH-funded competitive grants utilizing animals.
  • From 1994 to 2002, the number of National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)-funded T32 training grants has remained relatively unchanged (median number of programs is 14, range 13-16). In addition, some National Research Service Award (NSRA):Institutional Training Grant (T32)-funded programs do not utilize all the training slots for which they receive funding.


After analyzing available data on the demographics of the comparative medicine veterinary workforce and the postgraduate training of comparative medicine veterinarians, the committee developed a series of recommendations to increase the number of veterinarians participating in biomedical research. These recommendations reflect the concept that postgraduate training is the key to increasing the supply of veterinarians to the comparative medicine workforce. The committee found that while funding is a problem for some institutions, particularly those with residency programs, there is a distinct lack of qualified applicants for all types of postgraduate training programs. This is due to several factors, including the financial barriers caused by excessive educational debt. However, in the committee's opinion, one of the key factors negatively impacting the supply of comparative medicine veterinarians is the lack of commitment by veterinary medical schools and institutions that offer postgraduate training programs to prepare and train veterinary students and postgraduates for veterinary careers other than private clinical practice. The committee has developed a series of recommendations to address this problem, though changing the attitudes of faculty, policy-makers, and administrators will be a long-term process. Therefore, the committee also developed additional recommendations to deal with the shortage of comparative medicine veterinarians in the short term, including retraining veterinarians dissatisfied with careers in private clinical practice.

  • Acquaint Students with Opportunities in Comparative Medicine Throughout Veterinary School
    To increase the supply of applicants to veterinary schools and postgraduate training programs who have a sincere interest in comparative medicine, the comparative medicine veterinary community (as individuals, professional societies, and academic institutions) must actively work to educate undergraduate and veterinary school students about the role of veterinarians in biomedical research, the training necessary to achieve these careers, and the benefits associated with careers in comparative medicine. All comparative medicine veterinarians should actively seek out and mentor students with an aptitude for and interest in comparative medicine and biomedical research.
    To further nurture student interest in careers in biomedical research, veterinary schools are encouraged to establish summer externship programs and year-long research programs that can be supported through the NRSA: Professional Student Short-term Research Training Grant (T35) and T32 NIH award mechanisms, as well as through institutional funding and partnerships with corporate sponsors.
  • Increase Veterinary School Recruitment of Applicants with Interest or Experience in Comparative Medicine
    Veterinary schools should aggressively seek applicants with an interest in comparative medicine, and admissions committees should be encouraged to select applicants with interests outside private clinical practice. In addition, residency programs and research training programs should actively recruit interested private practice veterinarians to retrain for careers in comparative medicine.
  • Effect Change in Veterinary School Curriculums
    To introduce a wider population of veterinary medical students to the field of comparative medicine, all veterinary schools should offer at least elective courses in laboratory animal medicine, and more veterinary schools should require coursework in laboratory animal medicine.
  • Address Financial Barriers to Postgraduate Training in Comparative Medicine
    To address concerns about the large debt burden that graduates of veterinary colleges face, a debt-repayment initiative similar to the NIH Clinical Research Loan Repayment Program authorized by the Clinical Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 2498) should be initiated.
  • Increase the Number of Veterinarians in Roles Supporting Biomedical Research
    To increase the number of individuals with an interest in clinical careers in biomedical research, residency programs should aggressively recruit applicants through veterinary student clubs, national meetings, career days, etc. In addition, the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM) and the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) should facilitate the registration of their respective residency programs with the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program (VIRMP).
  • Increase the Number of Veterinarians Serving as Principal Investigators
    Each awardee institution should take full advantage of their T32 award by utilizing all of the trainee positions for which they receive funding (between 4 and 6 trainee positions per year). In addition, if the current T32 program becomes maximally utilized, NIH should consider increasing funding to this program to accommodate additional awardee institutions. The T32 award requirement that all individuals complete one year of clinical training is creating unnecessary barriers for veterinary graduates wanting to enter training programs immediately after graduation. This requirement should be removed from T32 granting stipulations. Research institutions and schools of veterinary medicine should also encourage postgraduate veterinary trainees to apply for NRSA:Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (F32) awards and K awards and should actively provide the support necessary for young veterinary researchers to compete successfully for these awards. Veterinary schools should also seek to strengthen their dual-degree (DVM-PhD) programs through the NIH-funded Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) mechanism.



Hereafter referred to as comparative medicine veterinarians. Comparative medicine veterinarians are those with postgraduate research and/or clinical training that is applied to the endeavor of biomedical research. This training can be in one of many specialty areas including but not limited to: laboratory animal medicine, comparative medicine, comparative pathology, genetics, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, and toxicology.