Students tutor practitioners

AVMA co-sponsors Iowa VMA benchmarking project
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The plight of veterinary students immediately comes to mind during discussion of the economic challenges facing the profession.

In Iowa, however, veterinary students will soon be turning the tables, trying to help practitioners add value to their practices, and in a relatively short time.

This summer, some lucky Iowa veterinary practices will be visited by Iowa State University veterinary students eager to teach them how to use the analytic tools developed by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.

The Iowa VMA/NCVEI Summer Outreach Program arose from a suggestion by one of the students, Ben Wileman (ISU '05), who serves on the IVMA Professional Growth and Development Committee. After attending a committee meeting where the NCVEI was discussed, Wileman approached Dr. Pat Halbur, IVMA president and associate professor at ISU, with an idea.

To date, only 84 Iowa veterinary practices—13 percent of the state's estimated 640—have entered data and utilized the NCVEI pricing and benchmarking tools. Wileman wanted to work for the IVMA this summer and focus on increasing the use and awareness of the NCVEI tools in Iowa practices.

"I liked the idea, and so did the IVMA Administrative Committee and Executive Board," Dr. Halbur said.

He and IVMA executive director Dr. Tom Johnson went to work and wrote a grant proposal. Iowa VMA delegates, Drs. Michael R. Miller and Janet S. Wilson (alternate), and Dr. Robert E. "Bud" Hertzog, AVMA Executive Board member from District VII, took the proposal forward to the AVMA.

The recommendation called for the AVMA to approve support up to $6,000 to match Iowa VMA funding of the pilot project. Although the question was raised during Executive Board deliberations whether approving this project would obligate the board to fund future such proposals from other states, the tone of the discussion was positive, and the board approved the recommendation.

Dr. Halbur also contacted several companies and regional Iowa VMAs for support and was met with "overwhelming positive reaction."

The AVMA funding is being matched by combined funds from the Iowa VMA; ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; Newport Laboratories and the Veterinary Medical Center, Worthington, Minn.; ARKO Laboratories, Jewell, Iowa; HESKA Corporation, Fort Collins, Colo.; IDEXX Laboratories, Westbrook, Maine; the Eastern Iowa VMA; Greater Des Moines VMA; and Southwest Iowa VMA.

"The idea of state associations partnering with the AVMA, private business, and academia and using veterinary students to deliver the program to the practices in person was very well received, and our grant was fully funded," Dr. Halbur said.

In May, Howard Rubin, CEO of the NCVEI, trained four ISU veterinary students on the use of the NCVEI database at AVMA headquarters. Beau Bosma (ISU '06), Marlin Hoogland (ISU '05), Pete Thomas (who will enter the class of 2007 this fall), and Wileman all have an interest in business and entrepreneurship. Wileman and Bosma, the two students who will visit the practices this year, made their first rounds May 21. Forty clinics had signed up by that time.

"It looks like we are on course to achieve our goal of implementing the use of these excellent pricing and benchmarking tools in 100 to 150 Iowa practices this summer," Dr. Halbur said. Dr. Johnson thinks practitioners will be motivated when they observe the students' enthusiasm and business skills.

Although the tools are currently companion animal focused, a high proportion of mixed practices are being selected for visits so that once the practitioners have the tools, they can easily apply them to the food animal portion of their practices.

The students will receive an $8 per hour salary to visit the Iowa practices. They will report on the progress of the project at the Nine States Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, this August and at the Iowa VMA annual meeting in September.