Second Economic Summit Held

You may have seen a mention in last month’s AVMA@Work about an economic summit meeting we held with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The summit, held at the North American Veterinary Conference, was the first of what will be many meetings designed to address the ongoing economic challenges facing veterinary medical education. 

We’re happy to report that momentum continues to build after we held our second economic summit earlier this month during the AAVMC’s annual conference. It’s important to note that more than 70 leaders from veterinary medical colleges, the AAVMC and the AVMA have participated in these summits, with each attendee expressing a long-term commitment to helping us tackle the challenges we face. 

Many important economic issues were identified, and four – workforce concerns, educational debt, demand for clinical veterinary services and public support for veterinary medical education – were considered of the highest priority. Summit attendees focused on three areas during their most recent meeting: the veterinary workforce, educational debt and employer expectations of new graduates. 

There are differing opinions among members of the profession as to whether workforce shortages exist in certain practice disciplines and geographic areas. While workforce studies have been conducted in the past, summit attendees agreed that a new study – with up-to-date workforce supply-and-demand data – is needed. The AVMA’s newly established Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee will consider workforce study proposals at its meeting in early April, possibly setting the stage for a study to be conducted in the near future. 

As we all know, veterinary educational debt continues to climb, with mean educational debt hovering at about $142,000 in 2011. In an effort to help ease the burden of student debt, summit members agreed to create a multi-organizational education debt task force that will identify solutions and prepare a plan for improving financial counseling for veterinary students and recent graduates. 

In the area of employer expectations, summit attendees agreed that it’s critical for the profession to have a common understanding of the needs of employers who hire new graduates and of the expectations that both employers and veterinary colleges have for new graduates. It was recommended that a workshop be held at the AVMA annual convention to discuss how to improve salaries of new veterinary graduates, and to enhance their value and productivity to their employers. 

These meetings are providing us with the much-needed opportunity to gain a common understanding of the economic issues, and the pressures and stresses felt by the profession. We are seeking solutions, and the summit members will gather next at the AVMA Annual Convention in San Diego, which is being held Aug. 3-7.

4 thoughts on “Second Economic Summit Held

  1. @René Carlson, AVMA President
    We all wanted to know how we could have the results of this workforce study be as credible and meaningful to all stakeholders and their perspectives as possible, so that suspicion would not be leveled on the results. Part of this process is the rebuilding of trust and to work together. We spent a lot of time on that very subject with good consensus, I believe. It was a very meaningful discussion.

    Yet the discussion was held in secret, and not even the RFPs have been made public, much less the response. THis makes it almost meaningless to anyone who wasn’t there.

    It’s not that we don’t trust those who were there to judge those RFP’s as “very detailed and specific” and the response “excellent”. It’s that we don’t feel part of the process. It is very hard to get buy-in from stakeholders who are deliberately excluded from the process. I am concerned any resulting study will suffer criticism and rejection based on unfamiliarity rather than merit.

    As far as having leadership willing and able to make tough choices, I’ve said it privately and I’ll say it publicly as well- I am very glad we have the current crop of leaders that we have, particularly Dr. Carlson. I think Rene has done a great job of being available to address the concerns we’ve voiced- especially when many of those concerns are not founded in logic or knowledge but rather are generated by the genuine fear and distress we find ourselves suffering. It also takes a great deal of discipline to wait when you are under pressure to do something.

    This doesn’t make the first two paragraphs go away. We are still, unfortunately, fighting with each other instead of for each other. Leadership needs to make this process more open and accessible so membership can understand it’s progress and accept it’s results.

  2. I have to say these are great comments. Let me address a number of the issues raised individually.

    First, I can appreciate the frustration over another workforce study. However, this will not be another delayed National Academy of Science workforce study. The very detailed and specific requests for proposals (RFPs) developed by AVMA went out in January 2012 with an excellent response. One of our very concerns was as Greg suggested, that no matter what data was collected, it would be spun to fit the needs and perspectives of the stakeholder. (As in politics, it seems that may always be the case.) One of the three discussion priorities at our 2nd meeting with AAVMC was specifically to address concerns anyone might have with the methodology and results. We spent considerable time identifying pitfalls to that effect. We all wanted to know how we could have the results of this workforce study be as credible and meaningful to all stakeholders and their perspectives as possible, so that suspicion would not be leveled on the results. Part of this process is the rebuilding of trust and to work together. We spent a lot of time on that very subject with good consensus, I believe. It was a very meaningful discussion.
    The final workforce study proposals will be presented by the respondents to the Veterinary Economic Strategy Committee (VESC) at its first meeting on April 2-3. The timeline for this very needed up-to-date study is about 12-18 months, not five years. I have no doubt a good vendor will be selected and we will have timely and informative results.

    Second, Colin mentioned the importance and value of having our own Economics Division collect and monitor Real Time Data instead of having to depend on intermittent outsourced data. That is precisely the reason this Division was envisioned and authorized. Excellent observation.

    Third, Greg is right. The meetings we have initiated between AVMA and AAVMC are discussing issues for the profession, not just for education. There is no question our traditional educational system is under great stress financially with the significant loss of budgetary support from governments, which results in higher tuition being passed to the students, in all programs, not just veterinary medicine. It would be easy to have that issue dominate our discussions. But I can tell you the discussions have been very cooperative and sincere in addressing all issues facing the “profession” and not just those of education. Although, much of the stress on our profession is related to the educational debt our new colleagues carry and the effect it has on productive employment, compensation needs, and long term investment in practices. Much of the issues revolve around the cost of education, so that is of great concern to all of us, especially the students who are and will be our new colleagues. AVMA is also putting great effort into education of the public and profession for the value of preventive care both in educational curriculum and for established practitioners.

    Fourth, as to the strength of our leaders and their ability to make the tough decisions, let me address that concern. I agree completely that leadership for these challenging times must be aware, bold, and decisive. I personally have no problem making tough decisions as long as I can defend that decision to myself and to those affected. Despite some evidence to support a current overcapacity, who is to say that is a permanent situation or a temporary blip. An official statement in regard to workforce will carry significant impact for the profession in terms of future investment in education and applicant pool whichever way the workforce study points. In order to make a statement that is defensible, we need a study to look at current and future trends for veterinary medicine. I have complete confidence we will get that information in the not so distant future. AVMA greatly appreciates members’interest and comments.

  3. Like many of my colleagues, I follow the economic discussions within our profession with great interest and concern. While I am pleased that the AVMA is discussing economic issues with the AAVMC, it is my sincere hope that the AVMA leadership uses these summits as an opportunity to represent the constituents of the AVMA, most of whom are practicing veterinarians.

    The summit, held at the North American Veterinary Conference, was the first of what will be many meetings designed to address the ongoing economic challenges facing veterinary medical education.

    Is this a typo? Aren’t the two groups discussing the major economic concerns facing our profession, not just veterinary education?

    There are differing opinions among members of the profession as to whether workforce shortages exist in certain practice disciplines and geographic areas.

    There are different biases and motives for these opinions as well. The fact that a well respected expert on economics spoke at length about the imbalance of supply and demand at this very meeting only to have members of the AAVMC disagree is evidence that consensus will likely not be found. I think that it is very likely that the AAVMC will interpret any data available in a manner to justify ever expanding class size; to the detriment of our profession and the students they claim they are helping.

    will consider workforce study proposals at its meeting in early April, possibly setting the stage for a study to be conducted in the near future.

    This is way too non-committal for me at this point. If we are going to withhold comment on the supply and demand issues within our profession based on not having current data, this does not give me the impression that this is being treated with the importance that it requires. We need this ironed out now and we need a definite statement from our leadership about this. Put it on paper and make a definite commitment to getting this resolved.

    How can we allow the AAVMC to claim a shortage or predict robust growth for new veterinarians based on the questionable methodologies of the bureau of labor statistics without even analyzing and commenting on this? This is how erroneous or at least questionable information have been propagated for all schools and medial outlets to publish with regard to the growing demand for veterinary graduates. I have a stack of unsolicited resumes on my desk that say this demand is not present.

    I agree that an updated workforce study would be highly beneficial, but I am suspicious that we will only see in it what we want to see. Anyone that has had basic statistics knows that numbers can be manipulated to justify or rationalize nearly anything. The current workforce study that has been delayed now for how many years leads me to believe that I should not expect data anytime soon.

    So, we are left with the older studies that are now 10, 15, 20 years old. Are these still relevant? What has changed since they were published?
    • Pet ownership has gone up mildly
    • Client visits to veterinarians has gone down
    • The number of practicing veterinarians has nearly doubled
    • The number of graduating veterinarians has greatly increased

    I am not an economist, but I think some valuable information can be extrapolated from this.

    In the meantime, I urge our leadership to address these misperceptions the best way they know how with the available information. We need a response, a show of representation and not a 5 year wait for a workforce study that may or may not come. Our profession cannot survive without strong leaders that are able and willing to make tough choices.

  4. “While workforce studies have been conducted in the past, summit attendees agreed that a new study – with up-to-date workforce supply-and-demand data – is needed.”

    In the majority of cases, the best predictor of future behavior is historical performance.

    If the historical performance of the previous endeavors at compiling workforce studies of our profession is any prediction of the behavioral outcome of this call for a new workforce study, it is highly likely the proposed “current” study will be anything but current…. it will be 3-5 years (or more) in the process with repeated delays for reflection and consensus building, delivered through much rewriting and milk toast watering down of the conclusions to appease the attitudes of all the different segments of the Veterinary Oligarchy, and basing it’s final assumptions of the future using small pool participant data values which are then at least 3-5 years old by the time the study reaches the open market.

    “Wisdom is the ability to exercise good judgment on important, but uncertain, matters. – President Jimmy Carter” I am not a supporter of (former) President Carter but his observation stands to this point;
    It is true, we need facts and figures to help make responsible choices regarding the profession to maximize the best use of resources and minimize the chance we make catastrophic decisions which may harm the profession for years or decades to come. However, failure to act in a rational and logical fashion while we wait for -all- of the facts to be presented and satisfying everyone…is as much choice in how we are to proceed in handling things as it is a choice for us to act on less than perfect information in a shorter period of time.

    To seek perfect information which satisfies all parties and results in a consensus is likely to have us all commit to waiting until a point where such information, while 100% accurate, is 100% historical and too old to make any useful difference. At which time, we will all call for another “workforce study” to bring us a “current” picture….

    I believe it is due time for the AVMA to expend some of it’s $ 5M commitment of resources in the newly established Veterinary Economics Division on the development of a Real Time Data Collection and Analytical tool to track the -current- employment of Veterinarians in all fields; using self reported as well as independently verified data to provide AVMA members, AAVMC, Veterinary Students and the public media with a living map of employment distribution by numbers of individuals employed, in which fields, with some level of detail on income, benefits and quality of life metrics as well as performance metrics based on the institutional training received by individual veterinarians. A Report Card on the Profession as a whole, it’s individual career fields, and it’s academic training institutions – for ALL to see.

    A “living” map, updated in as close to real time as logistically possible, would allow us to get away from the cyclic trap of the “workforce studies” attempts to determine “where we are now” in order to project where we are going – allowing us to know where we are now and concentrate the bulk of our resources on attempting to project where the profession is going over the course of the next 5, 10, 20 years. Such a system would also allow us to “record” our current status as well as the predictions of the future, so that once we’ve reached the future we may be better able to look back and see where we’ve gotten it “right” and where we’ve gotten it “wrong” in prior attempts.

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

    Additionally, such a “living map” of our professional employment, developed with in the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, using AVMA members, employees and resources – trains our own profession how to be self-sufficient in assessing our own interests, as opposed to putting us (and the AVMA) at the mercy of overpriced outside consultants, with nebulous methodology and the double-speak of consultant conclusions offerings, on whatever timetable seems to suit others demands ahead of our professions’.