National commission targets key areas

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Building on the momentum of its first National Forum, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues has impaneled a number of task forces to explore improving the profession in such critical areas as veterinary skills and attitudes, gender equality, customer needs, and efficiency of the delivery system.

Composed of the NCVEI board of directors and sponsor's council, the four groups have begun assembling advisers and developing strategies and models intended to bring about wide-ranging reform.

The task forces met when the NCVEI convened for two days in late August. They mark the commission's latest initiative to further address issues identified in the KPMG LLP megastudy having significant bearing on the economic health of the veterinary profession.

The board approved a motion to sell copies of the full Brakke Study for $150 upon request. The study, funded by the Bayer Corporation and donated by the AVMA to the NCVEI, is an examination of the attitudes and practices of companion animal veterinarians.

Also approved was a motion to provide accredited veterinary colleges with electronic copies of the abridged version of the KPMG LLP study at no cost. The "copy protected" report can be downloaded at the colleges for use by students and faculty. Dr. Janet Donlin, NCVEI interim chief executive officer, said the NCVEI had been receiving requests from students and faculty for copies of the study.

In its ongoing mission to keep veterinarians, especially those in organized veterinary medicine, talking about the study, the NCVEI has begun formalizing a channel of communication with state veterinary associations. That way, the commission can apprise associations of its activities.

Since the release of the Executive Summary of the KPMG LLP study, an increasing number of state, regional, and species practice associations have been asking for presentations about the study during their annual meetings. Several such sessions are scheduled this year and next, with the second National Forum to be held at the Western Veterinary Conference in February.

At the first forum, held this July during the AVMA Annual Convention, veterinarians commented on the study and issues as specific as gender, business philosophy, and customer needs. Of particular importance to attendees was the NCVEI developing consolidation models and guides for pricing strategies (see JAVMA Sept 1, 2000, page 622).

Input from that meeting directed the commission as it established the four task forces.

The Gender Issues Task Force is assembling an advisory panel that would be made up of a diversity of individuals from the veterinary and other professional worlds who have studied gender issues.

Gender and its influence on various labor markets is already a highly scrutinized topic, said Dr. Sheila McGuirk, who was appointed to the commission this summer and is a member of the working group.

Rather than duplicating the work of others, the group proposes selecting advisers according to their knowledge of effects of gender in such areas as business acumen, integration into the workforce, and balancing of career and family.

Potential members include a psychologist, female practice owner, non-veterinarian medical professional, academician, female entrepreneur, and an appointee by the Association for Women Veterinarians. That panel is expected to be assembled by early next year, Dr. McGuirk said.

The Promoting Increased Understanding of Customers and Their Needs Task Force is assembling various species practitioners and nonpractitioners to study market penetration. They are also looking at recovering areas traditionally served by veterinarians that are now overseen by those outside animal medicine. Their collaboration will result in action plans designed to educate people about the areas where veterinarians can contribute substantially.

Noting the link between low pay and poor use of staff within veterinary hospitals, Increasing Efficiency of The Delivery System Task Force made several recommendations to the NCVEI.

The group suggested employing a communication consultant to craft a message about the need for increasing efficiency and tailored to the various veterinary groups. They also recommended commissioning a study on the productivity of the veterinary profession, along with developing working models to help veterinarians with practice consolidation.

The Skills, Knowledge, Aptitude, and Attitude of Veterinarians Task Force is working on identifying what competencies predict success at each stage of a veterinarian's career. Dr. Lonnie King, vice chair of the commission and a member of the task force, said today's veterinary graduates are strong in science and technical skills, but some are lacking in areas of interpersonal communication, leadership, and team dynamics.

When to teach these skills—whether as part of the college admissions process, in the veterinary curriculum, or in the form of the continuing education opportunities—is something the group will also try to determine.

There are plans for a pilot program involving a number of veterinary colleges and a consulting company looking at how these initiatives could be incorporated at the college level, Dr. King said. Subcommittee meetings are scheduled this month and in December to further develop the plan.