Signs of progress

Associations indicate willingness to work with national commission
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There are signs that debate surrounding some of the conclusions of the KPMG LLP Megastudy is beginning to subside after three of the study's more vocal critics recently indicated a willingness to work more closely with the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.

At a May planning meeting of the commission's board of directors, top officials with the AASP, AABP, and Association for Women Veterinarians said that, although they still do not agree with certain study results, they support the commission's fundamental goal of improving the profession.

Rather than continuing to debate portions of the study with the commission, the associations have asked that they be included in commission activities, especially those relating to gender and food animal medicine.

The AASP and AABP specifically requested food animal representation on the commission's board of directors, which is currently composed of executive officers from the AVMA, AAHA, and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

In addition to the associations, the board of directors heard from its sponsors' council. Made up of representatives from the animal health industry, the council gave its opinions on such issues as veterinary income, the demand for veterinary services, and the need to emphasize the role of veterinarians as service providers.

The board spent the remainder of the meeting, held May 16-19, identifying preliminary goals and how to achieve them. Also discussed were the upcoming NCVEI National Forum on Veterinary Economic Issues, which is scheduled during the AVMA Annual Convention on July 24, and the status of the search for a permanent chief executive officer.

At press time, a number of candidates for CEO were being considered.

Not long after the release of the executive summary of the Megastudy, the AASP and AABP had publicly stated their belief that the conclusions about the food animal industry and food animal medicine were inaccurate. Both associations complained of not being consulted during the course of the study, and the AABP worries that the data could result in veterinary colleges scaling back their food animal educational programs (see JAVMA, Feb 15, 2000, page 475).

The impact to veterinary income from the increase in the number of women choosing careers in #000000veterinary medicine, coupled with indications that women work fewer hours and charge less for their services than their male counterparts, had concerned the Association for Women Veterinarians. Women veterinarians, the association said, were being targeted for the profession's economic woes.

As the debate swelled in the ensuing months, the three associations that commissioned the Megastudy - the AVMA, AAHA, and AAVMC — sought to answer the various questions and criticisms about the study, while also developing the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. They created the commission to use the study as a catalyst for change in the entire profession.

Board member Dr. Daryl Buss called the May meeting a "pivotal point" for the commission. "We are now moving beyond a discussion and debate of the [Megastudy] toward planning strategies," he said.

It was important for the AASP, AABP, and AWV to meet with the commission board to voice their concerns, and for the parties to talk with them face to face so each group could develop a better understanding of the other's motivations.

"I think we found we were, overwhelmingly, on common ground," said Dr. Buss, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.

AASP executive director, Dr. Tom Burkgren explained the swine association's position: "We want to move past the Megastudy and get into what's more critical: how the commission addresses the concerns of food animal medicine and food animal practice."

Although he believes the Megastudy contains "blatant errors" in its evaluation of the US pork industry, Dr. Burkgren said he sees the value in the commission moving forward. From his perspective, the meeting created greater awareness of food animal issues among the commission board members.

"We're optimistic about where things will go," Dr. Burkgren said.

AABP executive vice president, Dr. James Jarrett described the meeting as constructive and a good opportunity for his association to address its concerns. The AABP agrees with most of the six critical issues identified in the executive summary, that the veterinary profession is faced with a number of challenges and opportunities, and that veterinary income needs to improve.

But the bovine association continues to have concerns about how the Mega-study will be used in some veterinary colleges. "We will continue to try to be involved [with the commission] in every way we can because we are concerned [about] what's going to happen to the educational process of the food animal segment," Dr. Jarrett said.

Asked to comment on how he thinks the commission will handle food animal-related matters, Dr. Jarrett was more guarded than his swine practitioner counterpart, adopting a wait-and-see attitude. He would like to see the commission emphasize opportunities in food safety and how food animal medicine is practiced in modern animal agriculture.

Association for Women Veterinarians president, Dr. Chris Stone-Payne said her understanding is that she and the commission board agree that women veterinarians are not the cause of low veterinary income. The effects of gender on veterinary economics are complex and warrant further examination, something on which Dr. Stone-Payne anticipates the AWV will work closely with the commission in the coming months.

The diversity in the veterinary profession, a result of the ever-increasing demands of society, has often made it difficult for the groups to come to consensus. Dr. Buss believes the commission, beyond dealing with economic concerns, will serve as a model for how the profession tackles future problems. The AVMA, AAHA, and AAVMC, he explained, are diverse organizations, yet united for a common cause.

"We are such a small profession," Dr. Buss said. "If we fragment and each segment goes its own way, there's very little leverage or opportunity to influence the future."