Officers on the road

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Officers on the road is a monthly feature of the JAVMA News, designed to let AVMA members know about the issues their leadership is addressing.

Officers on the road

As you visit the second half of the veterinary colleges during this last year of your vice presidency, what is the students' overall mindset about their economic outlook?

Dr. Thomas R. Kendall, AVMA vice president and liaison to the Student AVMA and student chapters, responds:

All the schools I'm visiting have had double-digit increases in their student fees. This has come about because schools that get state funding realized they must be more self-sufficient, now that they're no longer producing primarily agriculturally based graduates. Currently, 80 percent of graduating students plan to enter small animal practice.

As I talk with the students, they're very impressed with the 29 percent overall gain for veterinary salaries reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1998-2002. The increase is attributable in some degree to the work of the AVMA and National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.

An alarming corollary is that the 1999 KPMG market study reported a decline in real income (equated in 1995 dollars) from 1985-1995 of 4.6 percent. In 1998, the NCVEI plotted the trend in new-graduate income against the trend in student debt service payments, and projected that if those trends were to continue, by 2013 the average student debt would have equaled their average annual salary.

Realistically, it probably never would have happened, but it's a disturbing phenomenon.

What actions are students taking to improve the economic situation?

During my SCAVMA school presentations, I encourage students to go to to look at the tools that are available to veterinary practices. Veterinary students can help the practices where they'll be working by showing them how to use the NCVEI tools. In the summer of 2003, for example, Iowa students visited and introduced over a hundred practices in Iowa to the NCVEI tools. The students show practice managers and veterinary practice owners how to compare their practices with the national, regional, and soon-to-be-available state benchmarks, and they reassure the veterinarians that the site is secure and only they will see their own data.

At the Western Veterinary Conference (held in February), the NCVEI rolled out additional tools to help practices with interstaff and client relationships.

Are the Student AVMA and student chapters involved in economic enhancement activities?

Because of the momentum caused by the "From School to Success" programs, the SAVMA ad hoc Economic Development Committee—which started that program—is requesting a change in the SAVMA Bylaws to make this committee permanent. The programs expose students to nationally known speakers on various economic and career development issues. Seven schools have already held "From School to Success" programs.

Veterinary schools are responding to the template for a recommended curriculum in veterinary professional development and career success, developed by the NCVEI Skills, Knowledge, Aptitudes, and Attitudes working group, in various ways. Dr. Lawrence Heider, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, gave a report at the January 12, 2004, AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference and said that more than two-thirds of the schools are using this curriculum in providing information to students to help them be economically successful.

Many schools are forming career development clubs and inviting speakers to campus to talk about issues that were outlined in the recommended curriculum. Recently, the new veterinary college at Western University began forming a club. The University of Pennsylvania is proposing a national association of student veterinary business clubs, similar to the other veterinary interest clubs under AVMA student chapter umbrellas. And the University of California-Davis is planning to work with the California VMA on a summer NCVEI project.

A few years ago, students at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine formed the Veterinary Practice Builders Club. Dr. James Lloyd, who co-authored the NCVEI curriculum template, is the club's faculty adviser. This summer, the club hopes to undertake a project in which many of the 60 students will visit one or more practices to show them how to use the NCVEI tools. The NCVEI is assisting students by training them how to present use of the tools to practices. They will touch dozens of practices in Michigan—practices where many of them will go on to get jobs in two or three years. The club's other learning experiences have included a financial health seminar featuring one-on-one consultations with a planner, scholarships for students to participate in innovative practice management experiences, and workshops where students engage in exercises involving a fictitious business. Pfizer has sponsored the latter two programs.

Have you observed other changes at the colleges?

When I started as vice president, one of my goals was to talk to the students about how they can be a part of the solution to the problem of raising the economic base of the profession. Over the past 18 months, I've noticed a real increase in the veterinary schools' interest in providing information to the students to cause real and lasting economic improvement.