In-between a Southern tailgate party and a traditional Louisiana crawfish boil, 1,300 students from 45 veterinary colleges found time to attend lectures, wet labs, and day trips during the 44th annual Student AVMA Educational Symposium, March 21-23 at Louisiana State University.
What’s generated plenty of discussion in recent years is the preparedness of these newly minted veterinarians. Increasingly, many say they feel unprepared to enter practice, and opt for further education instead.
According to the 2012 AVMA Senior Survey, among those who had accepted employment offers, 49.3 percent had accepted an internship. Comparatively, 36.8 percent pursued advanced education in 2007 and 24.7 percent in 2002.
About 40 percent of the 2012 students pursuing advanced education said they did so because they wanted to practice better-quality veterinary medicine, 38 percent said it was because they planned to apply for a residency, and 18.3 percent believed they needed more training before entering veterinary practice.
One of the strategic goals that came out of the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium in 2010 was to “graduate career-ready veterinarians who are educated and skilled in an agreed-upon set of core competencies” (see JAVMA
, Sept. 15, 2011
Tomasina Lucia and Hillary Carroll, third-year veterinary students who are part of the Washington State University Surgery Skills Research Group, are doing their part through a study. They addressed student delegates about a survey they recently sent out that gauges competence expectations.
Lucia told JAVMA News that the idea came about last year after they heard practitioners say at conferences that veterinary graduates now are substantially less practice-ready than they were 10 or even 15 years ago.
“It’s a huge problem, and it’s not going to be solved by one paper, but we wanted to be constructive. We wanted to explore the issue of being practice-ready. What does practice-ready mean?” she said. “We didn’t find much information in the literature. So, we thought it would be a good way to start and lay the groundwork for the conversation, looking at what the specific skills are that we should learn in vet school to make us productive so that we can be hireable upon graduation.”
The student researchers received approval from the AVMA Executive Board this past March to access mailing addresses for 2,500 randomly chosen general practitioners as well as 500 graduates from the classes of 2011 and 2012.
||Marc A. Ledesma Jr. (left), senior delegate from Western University of Health Sciences, and Ayden M. Ables, junior delegate, chat during the SAVMA HOD session. (Photo by Chase Crawford)
Lucia and Carroll asked and received permission from the SAVMA HOD to forward the survey to chapter members and to promote the project to ensure a high response rate. They were also authorized to forward the survey to residents.
The research group sent the electronic survey in April to students at all U.S. and Caribbean veterinary colleges; surveys for practitioners and recent graduates will be sent later this year. Participants will be asked to consider a list of eight surgical procedures, such as canine spay and neuter and equine laceration repair, and then determine the time needed for completion of each procedure by a recent graduate and the expected independence level on a scale ranging from “shouldn’t be able to perform unsupervised” to “should perform unsupervised and be able to handle common complications.”
Eight other skills, such as hand ties or cystocentesis, are included to gauge whether they are of value to employers or whether schools need to teach them anymore. Demographic questions will be asked, too.
||Veterinary students perform an anatomy examination. The conference hosted competitions—both academic and athletic. Academic competitions included bovine palpation, anatomy, and equine aging. Athletic competitions included tug-of-war, a 5K race, flag football, volleyball, and basketball. (Courtesy of LSU SVM)
So far, the pilot data have indicated that time estimates for procedures have hardly varied but that “independence level” ratings have varied. Faculty and practitioners had the lowest expectations, while recent graduates and veterinary students had the highest expectations.
“That was interesting, because it’s opposite of what you hear from folks. I will be interested to see if it holds true across the country,” Lucia said.
Some comments from faculty also piqued Lucia’s interest. “The gist was, ‘I’m giving you this low independence level (rating) because I know you’ll see one of these (surgical procedures), but you won’t cut one in veterinary school,’” Lucia said. “It kind of speaks to how we have all these students going into internships and residencies, and should we have more of a five-year program if faculty are not expecting us to be practice-ready upon graduation? I’m hoping this will answer that question.”
The students will work with Dr. John Gay, associate professor of epidemiology at WSU, on the data analysis. Their goal is to have the results published in JAVMA or another veterinary journal within two years.
Another speaker, Stith Keiser, business manager for American Animal Hospital Association Career Development, informed student delegates about the association’s new mentorship program (see article
SAVMA HOD members also tackled sundry other student-related issues.
Student delegates created the Task Force on SAVMA Membership Benefits, which will evaluate what SAVMA currently provides for its members and whether any of that needs to change. Elise Ackley, SAVMA president, initiated the idea for the task force.
“I’m constantly hearing from SAVMA chapter presidents and students, especially in this economy, with high loan burdens, ‘What is SAVMA doing for me?’” she said. “Do we really need to offer a discount on North Face jackets, or could we offer something else or more scholarships or putting more money back to the students?”
The task force is anticipated to forward recommendations for consideration at next year’s symposium.
In-between sessions, the SAVMA HOD participated in a town hall session with AVMA Executive Board members Drs. Clark K. Fobian, president-elect; Walter R. Threlfall, vice president; Joseph H. Kinnarney, District III; Larry G. Dee, District IV; Chip Price, District VIII; and Thomas F. Meyer, District XI.
Ackley said, at times, the event probably felt like the Spanish Inquisition for board members, but that it meant a lot to students that the AVMA leaders listened and answered questions.
“Students want to feel like they’re being heard, and to have Executive Board members there and answering questions—that speaks volumes to the profession,” Ackley said.
Students asked what the AVMA was doing or could do about new veterinary schools applying for accreditation, increasing class sizes, and rising tuition.
“The board members did a good job of not being political but explaining the role of the AVMA,” she said, in that the Association is more geared toward advocacy and providing member benefits. “I think they did a good job clarifying what exactly their role is and what the students’ role in these things can be, too.”
Former SAVMA President Bridget Heilsberg updated the SAVMA HOD on the AVMA Task Force on Governance and Member Participation, on which she serves. Ackley said a letter-writing campaign to AVMA HOD members may be in the works, aimed at encouraging delegates to vote in favor of a new governance structure.
LSU School of Veterinary Medicine Dean Peter Haynes addressed the SAVMA HOD and discussed the Feb. 24 New York Times article “High debt and falling demand trap new vets.”
Outside the SAVMA HOD session were plenty of other activities.
On the last day, a diversity forum was held, consisting of lectures on sexual diversity. Also, a panel discussion took place with international veterinarians talking about how their cultural and ethnic diversity influenced the way they practice veterinary medicine in the U.S.
The forum coincided with national meetings of the Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association and the Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity organization.
Students also got a chance to explore Louisiana with tours of Baton Rouge museums, plantations, the Global Wildlife Center, the Audubon Zoo, Avery Island, and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
Coming and going
Outgoing 2012-2013 SAVMA officers are Bridget Heilsberg, Colorado State University, president; Chad Clancy, Iowa State University, secretary; Erich Roush, University of Wisconsin-Madison, treasurer; Taylor Simon, Louisiana State University, information technology officer; Julie Stafford, Oregon State University, international exchange officer; Andrew Stas, University of Pennsylvania, global and public health officer; and Melissa Andritz, Cornell University, editor of The Vet Gazette.
Incoming 2013-2014 SAVMA officers are Elise Ackley, Louisiana State University, president; Caitlin Pohlit, The Ohio State University, secretary; Al Claiborne, University of Tennessee, treasurer; Chase Crawford, Texas A&M University, information technology officer; Steen Smith, Oregon State University, international exchange officer; Scott Dudis, Cornell University, global and public health officer; Kyle Donnelly, University of Florida, editor of The Vet Gazette; Ricci Karkula, Texas A&M University, president-elect; Samuel Smith, University of Tennessee, international exchange officer–elect; Ashley Brendenberg, St. George’s University, global and public health officer–elect; and Rebecca Eddy, Cornell University, veterinary economics ad hoc officer–elect.
Planning is already under way for next year as veterinary students at Colorado State University gear up for the 2014 SAVMA Symposium, March 20-22.