January 01, 2009


 AVMA Answers: President's outlook

Why are you advocating more comprehensive animal identification, such as implementation of the National Animal Identification System for food animals and development of a microchip look-up tool for companion animals?

Dr. James Cook,  AVMA president, responds:

Identification has more importance than just for food animals—it has a great importance for all animals. We need to be able to trace animals back for many purposes, not only for food safety in the case of a disease problem, but also to get a lost pet back to its owner.

The Department of Agriculture is trying to do the National Animal Identification System on a voluntary basis, but I feel that it probably would be good to either mandate it or find a way to make producers more eager to sign on. Even though some have signed on, there are still a lot more out there who definitely need to sign on.

For companion animals, it should be simple for anyone who finds a pet to have it scanned for a microchip and then just call one number to identify that animal if it has a microchip. The AVMA Membership and Field Services Division is working very hard to promote the creation of a centralized microchip look-up tool, which would be a blessing for all practitioners and pet owners.

For horses, we also need permanent forms of identification in a databank. Microchips are very good, or it could be a registered brand or tattoo. If your horse were stolen, it would be easy to trace back. Also, if permanent identification were required, that could be a deterrent to abandonment.

How is the economy affecting the veterinary profession?

Veterinarians' incomes may not escalate like they should because of the depressed economy. I think there are still job opportunities for veterinarians, but they may have to take jobs in a different area or at a less desirable salary. The ones who will suffer the most are the recent graduates. They are just getting started, and most are under tremendous debt. I have talked with some veterinarians who were looking for help, but now they've decided to hold off and wait.

I think the veterinary profession will come out OK—because there is such an overall shortage of veterinarians—but we also will suffer.

One thing I've noticed in practice is that we have clients who normally would buy a year's supply of a preventive, like heartworm preventive, and now they'll only get it for six months or three months or even a month. This bothers you because you can tell your clients are very concerned. Everyone is taking a step back and trying to be as conservative as they can, and that doesn't do a lot to help the economy flourish.

When I go to meetings, I try to talk to the exhibitors. It seems like the basic items are selling just fine, but the exhibitors say veterinarians are backing off on purchasing high-ticket items, such as equipment.

Leadership at the AVMA is concerned about the economy. We're trying to cut back on travel as well as cut costs in other areas. We're trying to do things more efficiently. We have to be cognizant of the fact that we're on a limited budget, but we still want to meet the needs of members and maintain the services that are truly beneficial.

What else would you like to mention?

As I go to meetings, I have noticed how the AVMA seems to have a closer relationship with our allied groups than we have ever had. Overall, we are such a small profession, and we're going to have to support each other. That support seems to be coming together more than I've ever seen it since I've been involved with organized veterinary medicine.

Follow-up surveys showed that our annual meeting in New Orleans was a pleaser for veterinarians who attended, and we were trying to identify exactly why. I think it's partly because veterinarians feel good about helping people, and our meeting did help the local economy and the local people. And even though there is no way to measure that aspect, it probably played into the satisfaction part.