Sydenham attends to bovine business

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Dr. Rod Syndenham
Dr. Rod Syndenham

Dr. Rod Sydenham considers Alberta, Canada the most beautiful corner of the world. He was born and raised in the Rocky Mountain foothills of southern Alberta. Since 1978, when he graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at Saskatchewan, the new AABP president has had the good fortune of practicing in the province, in the city of Wetaskiwin.

Initially he owned a three-veterinarian, mixed practice. Later he sold the practice and branched out into consultative dairy practice involving business management of clinics. He continues to do some hands-on dairy work.

Being so attuned to business management, Dr. Sydenham is concerned that inadequate attention to this aspect in veterinary schools has led to a decline in qualified veterinary school applicants who want to pursue a career in food animal or mixed practice.

"Traditionally, veterinary practices haven't operated optimally as businesses. As a result, their return on investment—not only capital but time—is not as attractive as in some of the other professions and fields to which potential students have access."

Dr. Sydenham has an idea he believes would help make food animal and mixed practice more attractive from a business and practice point of view. "What we need in the veterinary curriculum is a formal [yearlong] externship program that allows these students to get out in the field for extended periods of time."

Ideally he would like to see something analogous to the civil engineering program his son is in. During an additional curricular year that takes place in several segments, starting after the first two years, the student works in the engineering field.

"You're paid to do this," Dr. Sydenham explained, "and when you get your degree you already have a year's experience and contacts within your field, and you've been exposed to what the real world is like. The placement rate is approaching 90 percent for students coming out of that track, before they leave school."

Another example: in the United States, law students working for a practice can appear in court to handle routine matters such as filing motions, under the supervision of a licensed lawyer.

"This would not only make veterinarians better businesspeople, but their experience would make them justify a higher beginning salary. There probably isn't a practice in the world that wouldn't pay more to a graduate who already had a year of experience," Dr. Sydenham said.

The idea is not uniquely his, he said. The profession recognizes that students are not receiving enough food animal experience and that it intimidates some students. "Individual animal medicine in the middle of the night" is the picture that a substantial number of students have of food animal practice.

Dr. Sydenham is doing more than talking about this idea. Through the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners, an offshoot of the AABP, he has been working with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine to effect the requisite curriculum changes.

Academe has not fully embraced the idea yet, he admits. For one thing, sending students for outside training could conceivably have an adverse effect on college funding.

Besides being beautiful, Alberta is an ideal place to practice bovine medicine. The province claims the fourth largest cattle population in North America. The plenitude of grass and the climate are conducive to growing cattle, and the northern latitude precludes many parasitic and blood-borne diseases common in warmer climes. The whole of Canada is free of brucellosis and tuberculosis. The United States and Canada are each other's largest trading partners, and cattle are among the commodities.

"Alberta is one of the few jurisdictions in the western world that is debt free," Dr. Sydenham noted. The money once used to service the debt is now rapidly reducing the tax rate. Personal income tax was drastically reduced and the corporate business tax is the lowest in Canada. This is attracting many businesses, so the agriculture industry benefits from the low tax rate as well as the growing population.

Dr. Sydenham came onto the AABP board in 1989, serving seven years. After a two-year absence he was elected vice president for 1998-1999. This past year as president-elect he also served as program chairman for the 2000 conference in Rapid City, SD.

He is one of the 536 Canadian members who comprise 10 percent of the AABP membership.

One of his presidential priorities is to reach more members with leading-edge information on bovine medicine in an economic way, as far as time and money. Dr. Sydenham is confident the AABP's reactivated CE committee will develop some interesting initiatives. His pet project is a newly released, searchable CD-ROM containing the AABP's 1997-1999 publications and the first edition of The Bovine Practitioner for 2000, with a second edition soon to follow containing those items plus the 2000 proceedings.

Imminent Web site improvements will feature a new design and more capabilities.

Dr. Sydenham invites all veterinarians and students with an interest in bovine medicine to join the AABP for its 2001 conference, Sept 13-16 in Vancouver, which has received many honors for its livability and beauty.