A Meeting of Veterinary Minds

In response to the ongoing challenges facing veterinary economics and veterinary medical education, the AVMA participated in an historic meeting at the North American Veterinary Conference earlier this month with the deans from our veterinary colleges. It was a lively and constructive gathering, bringing together the major players who are all trying to address the issues that have an impact on both today’s and tomorrow’s veterinarians. The AVMA Executive Board, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and 35 veterinary school deans began a dialogue that will bring us toward a common understanding of the economic issues, pressures, and stresses felt across the profession. Future meetings are scheduled, with the next one planned for March. We will keep you posted as developments occur and as we seek solutions to the pressing issues we face.

11 thoughts on “A Meeting of Veterinary Minds

  1. I appreciate the comments that have been posted in response to my posting on Jan 27th. The info quoted at the VLC regarding an AVMA document referring to a “shortage” of veterinarians was written nearly 2 years ago. I would be the first to admit that this statement is outdated and underscore the fact that AVMA’s thinking has evolved considerably since this was written. At that time, we identified food animal production veterinarians as well as rural, food animal inspection (USDA) , and research veterinarians as practice areas that were experiencing a “shortage.” Since then, AABP and others have suggested that there is not a shortage in rural veterinarians, but rather that the current practice model is no longer economically viable.

    I am not aware of any claim in recent years by the AVMA that there is a shortage of companion animal practitioners. We have certainly heard, loud and clear, from many members who believe that there is a surplus of veterinarians, particularly in companion animal practice. What about the workforce status of veterinarians in laboratory animal medicine? Public (government) practice? Food animal (production) practice? It is because of this lack of definitive information that AVMA is looking at conducting a comprehensive supply/demand workforce study that would complement the long-awaited National Academy of Sciences study.

    I understand the interest expressed by several to make the AVMA/AAVMC/Dean’s meetings more open. Having attended the first meeting, I can assure you that all relevant perspectives were brought to the table, including the belief expressed by many that strongly feel that there is a surplus of companion animal veterinarians in the U.S. , and that increasing class sizes at our CVM’s is exacerbating this problem. There was also discussion about the economic realities; education costs are increasing while government support of our CVM’s is declining. This has placed tremendous pressure on our colleges to increase tuition and on our deans to increase class sizes – all to make up for this loss in revenue from state governments.

    But let’s be realistic. If we want these to be frank, candid, and collegial discussions that will lead to substantive and cooperative actions, then they need to be limited in scope and participants. If participants are “performing” for an audience, they will be less likely to be candid and/or more likely to make statements that will “play well” with the audience but not promote cooperative efforts that could lead to “boots on the ground” initiatives that will actually address the problems we’re facing. As much as I appreciate the interest that many of you have in participating or observing these meeting, I personally feel that this would be counterproductive to our mutual goals.

    Finally, let me address the role of AVMA accreditation of CVM’s as this relates to our workforce concerns. Thankfully, we live in a free market society where our government requires that the basic economic principles of competition and supply/demand govern our market place. We have laws and government agencies to ensure this is the case. As it relates to accreditation, this means that the AVMA Council on Education (COE) must accredit any school in the U.S. that goes through our application process and satisfies our rigorous standards. To arbitrarily refuse to accredit a school based purely on economic factors is not only unfair, it would be illegal. This would be true whether it is AVMA, or any other organization, that is the accrediting body for our U.S. CVM’s. Simply put, it would be illegal for AVMA to use accreditation as a means to control our veterinary workforce.

    The key is to ensure that we maintain very high standards for every veterinary college accreditation and apply those standards equitably to all applicants. At the end of the day, if we are producing a high quality product (graduates) that is too expensive to produce or one that doesn’t provide an acceptable ROI, then the demand for our “product” will decline. We are certainly seeing some evidence that this is already starting to happen. The question for me is whether or not we (the profession at–large and organizations like AAVMC and AVMA) can provide meaningful interventions to effect changes and avoid the train wreck that many see looming in the not too distant future. Speaking for AVMA, I can assure you we are sure trying.

  2. Ultimately, if the AVMA, the organization representing the profession at a national level, is going to make a definitive statement about the workforce, we owe it to the profession and our colleges to base that assessment on the results of a well-conducted study, and not just on anecdotal information

    Dr. Dehaven,

    I think most people agree that additional information would be useful. There are several studies that show, at the time they were published, that there was an imbalance, a surplus, of graduating veterinarians. This has worsened over time. I don’t feel that we can say it is all anecdotal.

    The thing that I and many of my colleagues have trouble with is that there appears to be conflicting statements from your office at times with regards to this issue. I may be mistaken, but I believe that I read a letter from your office when I was at the VLC where you stated that one of your goals was to make sure our workforce “shortage” was corrected. If I am incorrect, I apologize.

    How can you state that there is a shortage if you are saying that there is not adequate information to state there is a surplus? I cannot wrap my brain around that.

    Thank you
    Greg Nutt

  3. @Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO
    Could any such future meetings be broadcast? This obviates the logistics of physically accommodating an audience, and would minimize the impact of having an audience at all. At that level people need to be capable of engaging each other to address the issues without devolving into presentations and posturing. If they can’t that needs to be made known.

  4. Thank you all for writing. The AVMA, like you, is well aware of the economic challenges we face and the perception that there are too many veterinarians in the workforce, and we recognize how important it is to quantify the situation based on sound research and verifiable facts. We are awaiting the results of a much-anticipated, and unfortunately delayed, study from the National Academy of Sciences that should shed light on the issue. The study’s findings are expected to be released in the first quarter of 2012.

    The AVMA is also getting involved. We recently distributed a request for proposals seeking expert assistance to perform our own national workforce study. Both of these studies should give us an accurate picture of the veterinary job market.

    Ultimately, if the AVMA, the organization representing the profession at a national level, is going to make a definitive statement about the workforce, we owe it to the profession and our colleges to base that assessment on the results of a well-conducted study, and not just on anecdotal information.

    As part of our overall effort to address some of these economic, educational and workforce supply/demand issues, all members of the AVMA Executive Board recently met with 35 deans from across North America. This was an initial, informal dialogue that will hopefully lead to substantive action steps for the AVMA, working in partnership with the deans through AAVMC.

    Some have asked why this meeting was not open to members of the profession at large. There are several reasons, so let me address this at two levels. First, simple logistics. The meeting was scheduled on relatively short notice, and this would have created problems, both in terms of announcing the meeting to a broader audience as well as accommodating a much larger group.

    Secondly and more importantly, this meeting was intended to be an open, candid dialogue. With a large audience in the room, the tone of the meeting would have changed from one of an open dialogue to, at best, formal presentations or, at worst, organizational posturing and failure to reach a common understanding of the issues and a path forward.

    We encourage anyone interested in this topic to share their thoughts through this blog platform. We will take all of your comments into consideration as we continue to address these critical issues and strive to strengthen the veterinary profession.

  5. “I would recommend that AVMA set up a wiki to allow all members of our profession to communicate, collaborate and put forth solutions that will start to address the problems we collectively face.”

    We have a Wiki. It is called NOAH or the Discussion Groups. It is free to all AVMA members and is in the process of a major upgrade in the next year. The small group of posters over there would love to have more member involvement. I have advocated for years that it is the perfect platform for discussion like this.

    Come on over and help us build a stronger on-line community.

  6. It’s pretty simple that one solution to an oversupply of veterinarians IS NOT expanding veterinary school classes and accrediting more veterinary schools here and overseas as has been done recently. But of course the veterinary schools have spent the last few years at least trying to convince everyone there is shortage of veterinarians so they have a political argument for expanding their domain. In addition, corporate practices and chains love an excess supply of veterinarians – that makes for cheaper labor. So as long as those whose self interest lies in expanding supply predominate amongst our “leaders” the problem is not only unlikely to be solved, but will continue as it has so far only to get worse. Some seem to think we can somehow educate/market the public into larger demand, but I doubt this will cause anything but minor improvement at the margin, even with ideal assumptions.

  7. While I applaud the efforts of the deans and other “leaders” of the veterinary industry, Rome is still burning. Studies by AVMA, AAHA, and Bayer/Brakke have documented that the decline in veterinary medicine has been going on for more than a decade before the latest Bayer/Brakke Report was published and little coordinated action,if any, has been taken by the profession as a whole. While at least the Bayer/Brakke report provided the profession with some answers for the industry wide decline and a roadmap (if somewhat delayed) for the road ahead there are still many unanswered issues that need addressing. As practice owners we have still have to deal with the problems of mounting student debt, a surplus of small animal practitioners in urban areas and competition from the likes of Walmart and the other big box stores. If we do not deal with these issues it will more difficult for us to sell our practices and gracefully transition into retirement, as “corporate groups” will not be able to purchase all of our practices.

    The sad reality is, there is NO one silver bullet to solve the problems our profession faces in the next five years and industry leaders will never lead us out of this mess because they ARE looking for that one big solution, a solution that simply does not exist. Faced with this reality we must act decisively through trial and error to chip away at the problems that we face, and we must start NOW. I would recommend that AVMA set up a wiki to allow all members of our profession to communicate, collaborate and put forth solutions that will start to address the problems we collectively face. Our solutions will come from the ground up and not the top down and by networking we can leverage the knowledge of our entire profession instead of a few smart men and women locked in a closed room looking for the penultimate solution to save our profession. AVMA, take this one step. Its cheap its easy and must be done now before many of our colleagues leave the profession and the quality of our new veterinarians starts to deteriorate.

  8. I worked in Universities and Now am an owner of a Animal Hospital & practicing veterinarian. Based on my experience, I can say there is a disconnection between colleges, Administrators of policy, think tank of the profession, practicing veterinarians and dynamic realities on the front lines. Current challenges and opportunities need more consensus within the profession. The frustration of the few aware individuals need to be tapped to convert into plan of action.

  9. Right on, Craig Wardrip! Even if the interested average, non-leader veterinarian could not contribute to the discussion,he/she would have had an opportunity to hear the issues first-hand and be able to contact the invited participants and give his/her input later–which would enrich the undertaking. Of course, one could also say that you could contact your representative beforehand and give him/her the information. But wait! These are closed-door meetings! Do we know what our representative actually said or voted in these meetings? Compare that with our government. If we really have an interest, we can know exactly what happens in meetings of our House and Senate.

  10. I agree with Craig. I humbly suggest that at future meetings the panel also include members who are skeptical of the “we need more vets, we must expand class size and accredit more vet schools no matter what” attitude that seems prevalent among the deans and the COE? Perhaps Paul Pion could be invited . . .

  11. It is a shame that this meeting was not public and advertised to the attendees at the NAVC. (Or, if it was, the word didn’t get spread very well – there were no announcements on the slides projected at the start of every conference session) The concern of ordinary practitioners of veterinary medicine is that deans of veterinary schools, members of Executive Board (who are often near-retirement age owners of large practices), and employees of AVMA (who often have not practiced veterinary medicine to the public) may not understand “economic issues, pressures, and stresses felt across the profession” from the point of view of many practitioners.