Veterinarians are an overlooked component of the physician-scientist workforce. This is despite three NRC reports within the last 10 years concluding that the veterinary workforce is underrepresented and under-utilized in the biomedical research arena, and that veterinary recruitment and training is not providing a fertile ground for capitalizing on this opportunity.68, 69, 70
From 1990 through 2002, live, vertebrate animal-based research accounted for approximately 43 percent of the research grants competitively funded annually by NIH, as shown in the figure below. However, since the mid-1990s, the total number of research grants has increased, resulting in a 31.7 percent increase in the number of competitive grants utilizing animals between 1995 and 2002. In essence, there were approximately 1,300 more competitive grants utilizing animals funded in 2002 than in 1995.
Despite the central role that veterinary expertise can bring to biomedical research teams, veterinarians are often overlooked when collaborative biomedical research teams are being formed. This factor is perhaps the greatest impediment for veterinarians entering the physician-scientist workforce.
The PSW-WG analysis indicates that in 2008-2012, approximately 250 veterinarians were funded by NIH (Figure 5.2). To provide some context, there are 4000 veterinarians employed as academic faculty at schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association.72 Thus, the PSW-WG estimates that veterinarians comprise approximately three percent of the total NIH-funded physician-scientist workforce.
Among veterinarian-scientists who receive RPGs from the NIH, men outnumbered women by about three to one, as shown in Figure 5.3.
Women comprise about 90 percent of students in veterinary schools.73 The award rate for RPGs was not significantly different for females in 2012 (p=0.59612) (Figure 5.4).
In 2012, the average age of a veterinarian RPG grant holder was 50.4 years, as seen in Figure 5.5. (In comparison, the average age of MD RPG grant holders was 51 years; for MD/PhDs, 51.8 years, and for PhDs, 48.3 years.
The average age of first-time veterinarian applicants for a research award is 45.5. In contrast, the average age of First Time RPG awards for MDs was 45.2 years, for MD/PhDs, 44.3 years, and for PhDs, 41.9 years.
Of those veterinarians who applied for NIH funding, the award rate has remained below 20 percent during the past five years (see Figure 5.6). Award rates for MDs and MD/PhDs were significantly higher (see Chapter 3).
The number of veterinarians participating in the MSTP program and the LRP awards is so low that the data are not included here. Similarly, the number of veterinarian-scientists who receive K awards is small and declining, as shown below in Figure 5.7.
Similar to trends noted for larger numbers of MD scientists, those veterinarian-scientists with a K award compete quite successfully for R01 awards (Figure 5.8), compared to those without a K, as seen in the next two figures.
These findings suggest the key importance of the K award in fostering research excellence in veterinary medicine.
68 National Research Council (2004). (US) Committee on Increasing Veterinary Involvement in Biomedical Research. National need and priorities for veterinarians in biomedical research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.
69 National Research Council. (2005). Committee on the National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science. Critical needs for research in veterinary science. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.
70 National Research Council. (2013). Workforce needs in veterinary medicine. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
71 NRC (2004), p. 18
72 NRC (2013), ibid.
73 JustVetData. (2013). Meet the pink elephant in the room: Gender in veterinary medicine. Retrieved from http://www.justvetdata.com/meet_the_pink_elephant_in_the_room_gender_in_veterinary_medicine