July 15, 2012


 On the right path

​Study reinforces current efforts to help profession

Posted July 3, 2012 
Reading the conclusions and recommendations from the National Research Council for the National Academy of Sciences’ study “Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine” could easily invoke déjà vu.

Just take, for example, the report’s third recommendation: “Professional veterinary organizations, academe, industry, and government should work together with a sense of urgency to stimulate the collective actions needed to ensure the economic sustainability of veterinary colleges, practices, and students. A national consortium or committee should be jointly supported to bring together initiatives that focus on the economic sustainability of the profession in all sectors of service, education, and research.”

The passage virtually describes the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium, an effort to ensure that veterinary education meets society’s changing needs. The consortium, spearheaded by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, gathered nearly 200 stakeholders in 2010 to look at how educational models, college accreditation, and licensing can all work together to create next-generation veterinarians.

Two of the five goals from NAVMEC are “Share resources to ensure veterinary medical education is of the highest quality and maximally cost effective” and “Promote an economically viable education system for both colleges of veterinary medicine and veterinary students.”
NAVMEC update
Earlier this year, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges conducted a survey recommended by the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium of key stakeholders, such as the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, veterinary colleges, and allied veterinary medical associations. The purpose was to define metrics for success, including employers’ outcomes measures, by collecting baseline data against which progress in veterinary education, accreditation, and testing and licensure will be measured.
The AAVMC hopes to distribute the survey results in the near future, and later to publish them in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.
Plus, the AAVMC has designated funds specifically for NAVMEC programs and next steps. Over the coming months, the AAVMC board of directors—in collaboration with consortium supporters and stakeholders—will discuss and decide what the next steps will be for the association in the fiscal year. Meanwhile, the AAVMC encourages veterinary colleges, the AVMA and AVMA Council on Education, and testing and licensing entities to develop and implement appropriate new programs or modify existing ones.
The similarities don’t end there. The NRC report and NAVMEC executive report each mentions placing greater emphasis on teaching the one-health concept to students; promoting the value of veterinary medicine to policymakers, community leaders, and society in general; and expanding veterinary medicine as a named, eligible recipient in student loan–restructuring and –forgiveness programs at the state, federal, and local government levels.
The fact that the two reports share much in common isn’t coincidental. Dr. Bennie I. Osburn sat on the NRC study committee and chaired the NAVMEC board of directors.

Also, the NRC and NAVMEC reports were crafted around the same time. Following the three NAVMEC stakeholder meetings in 2010, the final report came out in July 2011.

The NRC report was commissioned in 2006 and expected to take 18 months to complete; however, the project was delayed for the first time in June 2009, with the deadline being extended at least five more times until the report was finally released this year.

The NRC workforce study may not have broken any new ground because of the delays and similarity to NAVMEC, but it still has value, said Bridget Heilsberg, Student AVMA president.

“I wish the report had come out when it was scheduled to, because it seems like things the AVMA, AAVMC, SAVMA, and the (Veterinary Business Management Association) are working toward fit into the report’s conclusions and recommendations,” she said. “But it’s good that the report is reinforcing that what we’re doing are the right steps and we have the right concerns. It’s now recognizing these as problems and wanting to move forward with addressing these concerns.”

Dr. Andrew Maccabe, AAVMC executive director, said the association is moving forward with the reports’ recommendations for veterinary colleges to share resources and to ensure their economic viability. He mentioned the AAVMC’s Veterinary Educator Collaborative, which provides online and face-to-face collaboration and sharing among veterinary educators. The VEC focuses on planning, faculty development, curriculum mapping, and sharing best practices.
“Veterinary medicine is infamous for not taking notice. (The 1988 Pew National Veterinary Education Program study) is an excellent report, but how much has been implemented? Not very much. You’re sort of stuck with having to say the same things over and over and over again. I think there’s an urgency in the profession that things have to change. The downturn in the economy has brought home how vulnerable we are as a profession.”
Dr. Alan M. Kelly, chair, NRC committee that developed the veterinary workforce study

Veterinary colleges have started to form their own collaboratives on the basis of geography. There’s the Consortium of Western Regional Colleges of Veterinary Medicine, which formed this past year. Its first action was to form teaching academies through which representatives from these colleges regularly meet with the intent of establishing a teaching scholarly exchange. Veterinary colleges in Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee have started a similar consortium among themselves.

Another area being targeted by the AAVMC for progress is centers of emphasis, Dr. Maccabe said, particularly those having to do with livestock production.

Current examples include the National Center of Excellence in Dairy Production Medicine Education for Veterinarians in New Sweden, Minn.; the Swine Medicine Education Center at Iowa State University; the University of California Cooperative Extension dairy farm in Tulare; the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb.; Cornell University’s Summer Dairy Institute; and Louisiana State University’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence.
Dr. Sheila W. Allen, NRC study committee member and dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, said she hopes the report will spur veterinary colleges to create more centers of excellence.

“I think some obstacles in the past for centers of excellence have been the feeling among stakeholders that schools have to meet the needs of every sector of the profession,” she said. “Now the report supports the idea that we can’t be all things to all people. If a school has two or three students pursuing a certain area that is in low demand in that region, it would be more financially prudent to send them to another school with a strength in that area. That means transferring funding from one school to another, but it would be more financially sound than hiring faculty and staff to provide learning experiences for only one or two students.”

A debt education initiative is the remaining area where the AAVMC and AVMA have focused their efforts.

The AAVMC took the lead on this initiative, which is a multiorganizational debt collaboration force working to identify financial counseling plans and ways to deliver this information to preveterinary students, veterinary students, and veterinarians. The work plan includes gathering student debt management information and identifying how each veterinary college is currently advising its students in regard to debt management, with an eye to developing best practices in this area.    

Centers of Excellence versus

 Centers of Emphasis
The Centers of Emphasis of the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture were authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill as regional centers for specific agriculture commodities composed of one or more colleges and universities. Since the centers were authorized, the AVMA and AAVMC have continually sought initial funding of $15 million for them, yet Congress has not allocated any funding.
Alternately, the USDA has several Centers of Excellence programs. The department’s Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service, and Food and Nutrition Service each has a program. The ARS program features partnerships between the USDA and colleges or universities, and is intended to foster complementary research on problems of national and regional concern and to enhance cooperative research at participating colleges.
An advisory group will review the information and provide recommendations concerning content and how best to distribute and promote the information for use by the veterinary colleges, students, organized veterinary medicine, counselors, and veterinarians. The goal is to present the report and the proposed programs at the third AVMA/AAVMC Economic Summit Aug. 5 in San Diego.

The AVMA, for its part, is tackling economic sustainability issues by establishing a division and a committee dedicated to veterinary economics as well as conducting its own economic analysis of the U.S. veterinary workforce.

Heilsberg said she is particularly looking forward to the AVMA’s workforce study, because she hopes the combined data from the AVMA and NRC workforce studies will show progress made from before programs initiated by these organizations started.

In the meantime, she said, “If we can take the recommendations from (the NRC) report and coordinate with similar ones from NAVMEC, and do this on a national level with the AVMA, AAVMC, and SAVMA, then we might be able to bring about change, because we do have the data now.”

Dean Allen agrees, saying the NRC report helped clarify where the needs are and the options for addressing those needs—the centers of excellence, for one, and loan-repayment programs for another—and can be used as a guide to make changes.

“I think this report also gives some guidance on future advocacy efforts. For example, we currently have a small-scale federal loan-repayment program. If that could be expanded to loan repayment for those doing post-DVM PhDs, working in diagnostic labs, or candidates going into academia ... Although they’re eligible to apply for the programs, the scale of the federal program is too small. If it could be expanded and include those additional areas of unmet need, it will have a greater impact,” she said.

The profession has tried to implement change in many of these areas before, with mixed success. And Dr. Alan M. Kelly, chair of the NRC committee, concedes that a lot of what the report says is not that different from what’s been said before. But by the same token, things haven’t changed, he said.

“Veterinary medicine is infamous for not taking notice. (The 1988 Pew National Veterinary Education Program study) is an excellent report, but how much has been implemented? Not very much. You’re sort of stuck with having to say the same things over and over and over again,” Dr. Kelly said.

“I think there’s an urgency in the profession that things have to change. The downturn in the economy has brought home how vulnerable we are as a profession. We have to find new ways of doing things, finding new ways of making sure the public understands why veterinary medicine is important to them. I think this is going to increase as the century unfolds, that we’re hugely important to the well-being of the American public.”

The AVMA and AAVMC have agreed to appoint a review committee with the intent of jointly exploring the conclusions and recommendations within the NRC report.