Reviving the romance of rural practice may be as vital to jump-starting interest in bovine practice as revisiting admissions policies, career expectations, and job rewards.
Dialogue within the American Association of Bovine Practitioners about its highest priority—improving recruitment to food animal practice—has centered not only on actionable steps but also projecting a certain image.
In messages to their members, AABP presidents John Ferry (2005-2006) and Charlie Hatcher (2006-2007) have prevailed on their colleagues to reflect on the image they cast and ask themselves some practice management questions as well.
Dr. Hatcher, who became president during the AABP's 39th annual conference, Sept. 21-23 in Saint Paul, Minn., said the future of bovine practice is largely up to veterinarians individually and through organized veterinary medicine.
"We've got to look within first and not point too many fingers," Dr. Hatcher told JAVMA. "Are we providing the same pay and benefits as small animal practice? Are we mentoring and involved in organizations such as the AABP?
"Do we promote a good image—can we get back to the James Herriot image and perception? We've lost some of that. I don't know exactly why, but we need to get back in that direction so there's a romantic quality to rural practice."
Dr. Ferry's presidential messages this past year often dealt with the profession's attention to the practitioner shortage. In them, he also wrote with fervor about the joys and intangible rewards of bovine practice—seeing the northern lights on night calls, bonding with clients during emergency visits, working with families who love their cattle. He wrote: "We have to recognize that our jobs can only just change so much to make (veterinary students and recent graduates) happy."
In a general session presentation at the conference, Dr. John A. Schmitz of the University of Arizona said, "I think the (decision) to stay in food animal practice reflects values these veterinarians bring with them when they apply to veterinary school."
His observation was based on a survey of Nebraska veterinarians conducted while he was on faculty at the University of Nebraska. The investigators sought to identify veterinary college admission criteria that could result in selection of students who would be more likely to pursue food animal and rural practices, and whether colleges' related programs influenced their graduates' practice decisions.
The investigators concluded, among other things, that the profession should work toward veterinary college admission of students who have rural and small town backgrounds, livestock experience and interest, and a career goal of food animal or mixed animal practice.
An attendee raised a concern that admissions offices claim such selection would be illegal. Dr. Schmitz replied that until a few years ago, he also was under that impression. Then he learned that antidiscrimination laws allow the establishment of admission policies that give preference for factors not related to gender, race, and ethnicity.
How practitioners can help students prepare early for the veterinary school admissions process was the subject of a presentation by Dr. James Brett, Montezuma, Ga., at an evening practice tips session. Some schools are actively recruiting students with food animal interest, he said, but most aren't. Find out early about the school's minimum requirements—such as what undergraduate courses will be considered in their science GPA score, so that they can meet them by the time of their initial evaluation. Inquire about what electives are viewed positively and what other attributes are valued, such as experience working at multiple veterinary practices with multiple species, and where students should ideally obtain their preveterinary training.
"Take this information home to potential students you know, and help them start preparing their file early," Dr. Brett said. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The idea of individual bovine veterinarians taking active roles in addressing the practitioner shortage was echoed by Dr. Roger Saltman, an AABP representative to the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition. He led a session on how the AABP and bovine practitioners can use the information from the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition Report about the demand for and availability of food supply veterinarians.
Summarizing some of the potential tactics offered by the study authors, he added, "It's up to each of us to get involved." Dr. Saltman noted that the study authors were impressed with the tremendous satisfaction of food animal practitioners.
Asked why the free market doesn't correct the shortage, he said, "Current food safety veterinary medicine students are in the catbird seat in regard to current opportunities. ... The free market will work, but the question is, given such a long lag time between students developing an interest in food animal medicine and having them graduate from veterinary school, nonveterinarians may step in to fill these vacancies before we have enough veterinarians available."
The coalition report is available online at www.avma.org/public_health Summary articles were published this year in JAVMA (June 1, June 15, and July 1).
Support from the AABP
AABP President Hatcher said, "The biggest way to help on the food animal veterinarian shortage is to raise one!" His daughter Jennifer, a 2005 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, is pursuing a career as a bovine practitioner and runs the Hatchers' mixed practice. "I'm very fortunate that's the way it turned out," he admits, "because a lot of times, it doesn't."
The AABP has traditionally had a strong focus on students and recent graduates, as their 2006 conference registration reflects. Of 1,980 registrants, 335 were veterinary students, including a delegation of nearly 40 from the University of Montreal. (The total also includes nearly 900 veterinarians and 55 foreign attendees from 11 countries.)
Five veterinary students who have proved their interest in food supply veterinary medicine and excelled during their first three years of veterinary school were recognized by the AABP and Schering-Plough Animal Health with $1,500 stipends and plaques. Recipients of the third annual AABP/ Schering-Plough Animal Health Student Recognition Award were Emilie Blough, Purdue University; Marlo Egleston, Cornell University; Nancy Kerr, University of Prince Edward Island; and Mary Mowrer and Aaron Wise, both from The Ohio State University.
Amstutz Scholarships of $2,000 each were presented to 20 third-year veterinary students. Funding sources for this award include AABP member donations and an annual contribution from the Eli Lilly Foundation through Elanco Animal Health.
Committed not only to attracting more students to bovine practice but also to developing young leaders, the AABP presented its first James A. Jarrett Young Leader Award, dedicated to the organization's late executive vice president, to Dr. Reneé Dewell (COL '96), Windsor, Colo.
"The AABP and Academy of Veterinary Consultants have reputations for leadership that encourages newer graduates to get involved," Dr. Dewell told JAVMA. "They bring people into the fold, and Jim Jarrett did a really good job of that.
"They help you get on committees, get involved, and make you feel like you're a voice that matters. That encouragement—the extra few minutes that graduates who have been out longer spend with the newer graduates—makes a big difference. It did for me."
And she is making a difference. According to the AABP's executive vice president, Dr. Gatz Riddell, the AABP Committee on Biological Risk Management and Preparedness that Dr. Dewell chairs has been quite active this year. Moreover, Dr. Dewell was the driving force behind its creation this year.
Last year, she resorted to scratching out on the back of a magazine her proposal for an AABP committee that would address biosecurity and disaster preparedness. Hurricane Katrina had just struck, and Dr. Dewell was in Mississippi deployed as a new member of Veterinary Medicine Assistance Team 3. She mailed the proposal to her husband, Dr. Grant Dewell (COL '93), and relied on him to present it.
Since its formation, the committee has contributed to the newly revised version of the AVMA's booklet "Saving the Whole Family," which now includes a section on livestock, and the committee is helping revise the "Cattle in Disasters" section of the AVMA Disaster Preparedness and Response Guide, found online at www.avma.org/disaster.
Drs. Reneé and Grant work together at Colorado State University's Animal Population Health Institute with Dr. Mo Salman. Renee does research on preharvest food safety, and Grant is a PhD candidate in epidemiology. Equally involved, he just completed a term chairing the AABP Committee on Pharmaceutical and Biologic Issues and is AABP alternate to the AVMA Clinical Practitioners Advisory Committee.
From the start, they included their children—now ages 3, 7, and 8—in their professional lives, advice they are glad they got from former colleague Dr. Dee Griffin.
Reneé said, "Our kids think it's great fun to go to the feedlot. We've been able to encourage them to see all the really cool things you can do with a DVM degree. They know our friends, so they know you can do companion animal medicine. They see me doing research, and they know that Grant does a lot of teaching.
"We talk about food safety and they understand things about biosecurity that even some of our veterinary students don't. And they know there's community service, because they missed me when I was (deployed with VMAT-3), but they understood that's part of being a veterinarian."
Her other advice to contemporaries is to find an issue they're interested in and get involved through a committee or other pathway. "It's a good way to give back."
At the Saint Paul conference, the AABP board of directors voted to establish the American Association of Bovine Practitioners Foundation and approved $200,000 of AABP funds as seed money.
A former AABP president, Dr. Walt Guterbock, Ravenna, Mich., has been the foundation's driving force. He said, "The main idea is to try to provide a vehicle where practitioners can donate money to advance their branch of the profession through educational opportunities for those who are in it, and to help attract new bovine practitioners.
"There are bovine practitioners who have been financially successful and feel, as I do, that we owe the organization a big debt of gratitude," Dr. Guterbock said.
The nature of the projects remains to be determined, but improving opportunities for Web-based distance learning is one idea. Another is promoting careers in food animal practice to undergraduates and high school students through such avenues as electronic educational materials, a Web site, summer job/internship subsidies, and scholarships. The foundation might also support scholarships for veterinary students to attend the AABP conference and an endowed lectureship at the event.
An ad hoc committee led by Dr. Guterbock will develop bylaws, file articles of incorporation, and seek an Internal Revenue Service ruling on the foundation's tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization. AABP members who are committed to fundraising will be sought to serve on the foundation board of directors.
Other AABP board actions
The AABP Animal Welfare Committee, chaired by Dr. Jan Shearer, made two recommendations.
The use of animals in spectator events was discussed at length in committee. Vancouver will host the AABP's 2007 conference, and this year, the Vancouver City Council voted to prohibit certain rodeo activities. The AABP wants to be prepared if approached about its position on rodeos.
The committee concluded that it agrees in principle with the AVMA position statement "Welfare of Animals in Spectator Events" and has recommended that the AABP board of directors adopt this as its policy regarding questions on cattle in rodeo events. The AABP Animal Welfare Committee supports and encourages the active involvement of veterinarians to ensure the humane treatment and appropriate care of rodeo animals. Several AABP members have worked closely with rodeo event coordinators throughout North America to develop guidelines for the welfare and humane treatment of rodeo animals.
Relative to rodeos, the AVMA position states: "The AVMA recommends that all rodeos adopt, implement, and enforce rules to ensure humane treatment of rodeo livestock. The AVMA also supports continued sport animal medicine research to help minimize injury for contestants and animals." To access the full AVMA position, go to www.avma.org, click on Animal welfare and then Position statements.
As the committee recommended, the board approved revision of the AABP position "Disabled Livestock" so it pertains only to disabled cattle. This was done to avoid conflict caused by the previous position, which called for immediate euthanasia of animals that may be down following transport to a packing plant.
"Fatigue syndrome in swine often results in a temporary condition where swine are found down and unable to rise following transport to packing plant facilities," Dr. Shearer noted. "Experience has shown that this condition is temporary and that affected animals are able to rise and thus be processed after a short period of rest."
That is in accord with the AVMA's position on disabled livestock, which states that if swine are down at a terminal market and are not in extreme distress or do not have an obviously irreversible condition, they may be allowed up to two hours to recover.
Guidelines on hoof problems and lameness were submitted by the AABP Lameness Committee and approved by the AABP board of directors. Dr. Nigel Cook, committee chair, said they will be made available on the AABP Web site, www.aabp.org. One set of guidelines deals with recognizing, treating, and preventing the main lesion that causes hoof lameness in dairy cows. The other set addresses the handling of severely lame animals and is intended to aid veterinarians and farmers with management, posttreatment, and recovery.
Dr. Riddell noted that the AABP is working with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, AVMA, and the Academy of Veterinary Consultants to help recruit a veterinarian for the recently vacated position of NCBA executive director of regulatory affairs. The previous officeholder, although a nonveterinarian, was highly regarded. Dr. Riddell said a veterinarian will bring even greater awareness of health issues to the position and to discussions in Washington. The position ad states that the ideal candidate will be a veterinarian, although the NCBA will consider certain others.
The AABP selected St. Louis as the AABP's 2011 meeting site. Vancouver, British Columbia will host the 2007 meeting, Sept. 20-22.
Keynote speaker Jon Selzer, MD, led off the general session on industry concerns for the future of bovine practice by underscoring the importance of food animal veterinarians establishing contacts with retailers and the public.
Just five retail companies account for 50 percent of the national grocery share, he said, and this concentration at the retail end of the food supply chain will continue to affect producers in terms of what retailers are looking for from industry.
Nontraditional, price-driven retailers such as WalMart and Costco, for example, are looking to reduce the number of butchers in their stores. "The beef industry too often, in my mind, is (only) selling a commodity," Dr. Selzer said. The opportunity is for industry and the veterinarians who serve it to move to the "value-added level" and fill that consumer resource void by offering consumer guidance on prepackaged products.
To improve communications with supermarkets and restaurants, Dr. Selzer encouraged the industry and profession to tell how their products help meet consumer and retail needs, but in a concise Reader's Digest format. Also, ask retailers questions when grocery shopping. When dining out, ask the chef the difference between conventional beef and "natural" beef. "The answers will amaze you," Dr. Selzer said. "In the marketplace, perception is reality."
An early-morning presentation added to the program drew a sizeable audience for a forum on market restrictions and challenges to approved technologies. Numerous technologic advances that positively impact the efficiency of modern agriculture and the safety of the food products are in the sights of those advocating bans on technology.
Such constraints can limit investment in production agriculture and the business operations of veterinarians and their clients.
Monsanto sponsored the session. A representative of the company, which makes recombinant bovine somatotropin, talked about a movement by milk processors and retailers to generate a supply of milk from cows not treated with BST. Genetically modified grains are another example of targeted technology.
AABP Executive Vice President Riddell called on bovine practitioners to inform consumers of the advantages and necessity of technologic advances as a shrinking agriculture base deals with the challenges of feeding an expanding population.
Dr. Charlie Hatcher, College Grove, Tenn., ascended to the presidency
on opposite page). Dr. Hatcher succeeded Dr. John Ferry, Adams, N.Y. Dr. Michael Bolton, Greenville, Mich., assumed the office of president-elect
, and Dr. Richard Wallace, Champaign, Ill., was installed as vice president
Prior to the conference, AABP members elected Dr. Robert W. Cloninger, Centre Hall, Pa., as District 2 director; Dr. Glen Johnson, Reedsburg, Wis., as District 5 director; and Dr. Glenn M. Rogers, Aledo, Texas, as District 8 director.
At the AABP business and awards luncheon, AVMA President Roger K. Mahr told AABP members how pleased he is with the involvement of AABP members in addressing the profession's issues, many of them by serving on AVMA entities.
"As AABP begins its 40th year as a professional organization, it certainly is fitting to reflect on our legacy," Dr. Mahr said. He challenged his colleagues to embrace the one world/one health/one medicine concept, to do whatever they can in organized veterinary medicine, and to mentor a colleague.
Many of the 12 clinical forums at the AABP conference were filled to capacity. The three-day conference featured 51 session speakers. The Dec. 15 issue of JAVMA News will feature take-home messages from sessions on feedlot lameness, novel approaches to parasite control, and fetal sexing and sex-sorted semen.