Early in his career as an equine practitioner, Dr. Larry R. Bramlage looked up to the leaders of the American Association of Equine Practitioners as heroes in the profession. Now, as the 50th president of the AAEP, Dr. Bramlage hopes to continue the tradition of mentoring in the profession, by reaching out to veterinary students and young practitioners.
Dr. Bramlage, an orthopedic surgeon and partner at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, was installed as president during the association's annual convention Nov. 22-25. He will serve as a spokesperson for the association and help achieve four primary goals laid out in the AAEP's strategic plan.
The first goal on the agenda is to improve the AAEP's continuing education offerings. Dr. Bramlage, who served as the program chair of the 2003 AAEP's convention, said that the AAEP's ongoing commitment to continuing education seems to be helping boost attendance at the convention. This year's convention attendance was up 20 percent, with a total of 6,175 attendees, he said.
The AAEP's second goal, to encourage more students to pursue a career in equine practice, is important to Dr. Bramlage.
"When I was growing up, I never thought I'd be an equine practitioner," he said. "I thought I'd be a general, all-species veterinarian. I'm very, very pleased with my career choice. I'm enthusiastic about keeping the options open for the students."
It has become important for the equine sector of the veterinary profession to reach out to students, since the number of students pursuing careers in equine practice has declined in recent years. Dr. Bramlage said part of the reason for the decline is that more and more students come from urban backgrounds and have little familiarity with horses.
"We feel it is our responsibility to give them all the information they would like, and, therefore, keep potential careers as equine practitioners in their vision," Dr. Bramlage said.
As part of that effort, the AAEP and a group of practices created the Opportunities in Equine Practice program, which brought 377 third-year veterinary students to Lexington, Ky., over Labor Day weekend. They met practitioners, learned more about the various types of equine practices and opportunities in academia, and toured various hospitals and farms. The Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital hosted the event, and more than 30 equine practices participated. Dr. Bramlage said the response by practitioners and students was positive, and the AAEP will support the program. The AAEP participated in a similar program Purina held for veterinary students in their fourth year.
Low starting salaries compared with other areas of veterinary practice also have deterred some students from entering equine practice. Though other veterinary specialties have higher average starting salaries, Dr. Bramlage says AVMA surveys show salaries for equine practitioners catch up within three to five years and surpass salaries in other specialties by five to eight years postgraduation.
Dr. Bramlage explained that starting salaries for equine practitioners are lower because most of them begin their careers with little practical experience.
"The five-year-old AAEP Avenues Internship Program makes it easier to get your feet on the ground (as an intern) and get your first round of experience under your belt, so that you can practice effectively and very comfortably with clients who are going to be challenging you on everything you know."
The AAEP operates the program, with 87 equine practices providing one or more internships.
The third goal on the agenda is catering to the needs of the growing number of women entering equine practice. Currently, the AAEP's membership is predominantly male, but Dr. Bramlage said during the next four to five years, the membership will become predominantly female. To help meet the needs of the growing ranks of women in the profession, the AAEP has been offering more sessions on balancing work and family.
The association also is developing interactive, computer-based continuing education and finding more ways to communicate with members and horse owners electronically.
Overall, Dr. Bramlage said he is very optimistic about the future of equine practice, because the number of horses is increasing as Americans become progressively more interested in horse ownership as a leisure activity.
"The outlook for equine medicine and surgery is very bright, just like the future for the horse industry is very bright," he said. "Horses tap into our most valuable commodity—that's leisure time."