Q: Why have you chosen the shortage of veterinarians in the workforce as your main focus for your upcoming role as AVMA president?
Dr. Roger K. Mahr, AVMA president-elect, responds:
A: First of all, it's important to recognize that there are actually five strategic issues that the AVMA Executive Board identified in November 2004 as issues for the profession and for the AVMA to focus on over the next three to five years. Input concerning these issues was collected from all the various AVMA entities as well as allied and state constituent associations. Those five strategic issues are animal welfare, economic viability, veterinary workforce, veterinary education, and veterinary services. As the AVMA addresses each of those issues, our ultimate intent is to better serve society.
As we look at the veterinary workforce and veterinary education issues, the critical need for more veterinarians to meet the responsibilities in those areas becomes more and more apparent. Those responsibilities include caring for and improving animal health, public health, food systems, environmental health, and biomedical research. I believe addressing the shortage of veterinarians in the workforce is certainly very timely, and that the AVMA and the veterinary profession must look with a sense of some urgency at how we will meet those responsibilities.
Q: Could you explain how the veterinary workforce needs tie in with veterinary education?
A: To meet the veterinary workforce needs, certainly veterinarians must be prepared and trained to fill areas where those responsibilities exist. Veterinarians need to be educated so that they are prepared to reap the opportunities that come with those responsibilities. One of the important areas in addressing the shortage of veterinarians and filling those responsibilities is to increase the applicant pool—both in the amount and diversity of applicants—at veterinary colleges and schools. Also related to education, the veterinary profession needs to look at the various college curriculums, and how training for these responsibilities will occur. Some creative ways need to be identified, and perhaps established, to allow for collaborative training across universities, such as through consortia, as well as interrelationships among disciplinary areas, including veterinary medicine, human medicine, biomedical engineering, and animal science. It's important that the AVMA Council on Education's standard requirements for the accreditation of veterinary colleges and schools remain as the gold standard throughout the world for veterinary medical education. The council will certainly reassess and evaluate those standards to make sure they continue to fulfill the necessary needs to produce veterinarians to meet those responsibilities.
Q: In 2005, two studies were released from the National Academies, "Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science" and "Animal Health at the Crossroads: Preventing, Detecting, and Diagnosing Animal Diseases." How will these studies affect the AVMA's role in addressing the veterinary workforce issues?
A: Those two studies were based on the continuing convergence and the interrelationship of animal health, human health, and the ecosystem—or wildlife health—and embracing what's termed as the "one medicine" concept. Each study highlighted the responsibilities of veterinary medicine to society and identified those areas where needs exist, such as public health, particularly related to food safety, food security, and emerging zoonotic diseases. There's an overriding message that came from those reports concerning the need for communication, coordination, and collaboration among the various entities that are involved with those issues, including the associations, colleges, government agencies, and animal industries. Another point that was highlighted was biomedical research and the need for collaboration among all the medical sciences—veterinary and human—to establish a means of funding to accomplish those requirements.
As we look at the AVMA's responsibilities related to what came out of those reports, it's clear that the AVMA is an important partner with the colleges, agencies, and animal industries in recruiting and preparing additional veterinary graduates in the needed areas. The studies identified a national animal health education plan, which would be developed to train individuals involved in all sectors dealing with disease prevention and early detection, including all veterinary practitioners. Finally, the AVMA will play a part in educating the public about the importance of financially supporting the animal health needs related to biomedical research.
Q: Will there be any other related studies coming forward in 2006?
A: With great anticipation, a very timely study commissioned by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition and Bayer Animal Health will come forward early this year. David M. Andrus, PhD, who heads the marketing department at Kansas State University, directed the study. The study estimates what the demand for food supply veterinarians is for the future, in terms of numbers of veterinarians needed and the types of employment opportunities, and how to maintain availability of veterinarians for careers in food supply veterinary medicine. The study addresses student recruitment, appropriate training for all segments of the food systems, and veterinary retention—how do we keep veterinarians a part of food supply veterinary medicine? It's an example of a study that again involved collaboration and cooperation among entities within the veterinary profession, as I referred to earlier.
Along with the AVMA, the coalition includes the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, American Association of Food Hygiene Veterinarians, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Q: In November 2005, the AVMA Executive Board adopted an AVMA Position Statement on Research for Healthy Animals 2010. How will this position statement help address the shortage of veterinarians in the workforce?
A: This past fall, the AVMA Council on Research reviewed recent studies from the National Academies, including the two we discussed earlier, and they recognized that there is a significant role that the AVMA must play in addressing the studies' recommendations. With a focus on research, the council developed a position statement, which provides, in part, a strategic approach to improving national animal health within the broader context of public and environmental health. The position states that the AVMA supports increasing the size and diversity of the veterinary workforce; developing funding resources; preparing and training more veterinarians in biomedical research, public health, food systems, and environmental health; and doing that by enhancing the resources of the veterinary colleges and laboratories.
This position statement certainly not only gives direction toward research initiatives that the AVMA can pursue, but it also can serve as a template to help further the Association's visioning and planning in addressing the veterinary profession's responsibilities related to animal and human health.
Q: What's the status of the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act (H.R. 2206/S. 914)?
A: Both bills are identical and are currently in committee (mid-January). The act would provide $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to expand the educational capacity of the veterinary colleges and increase the number of veterinarians trained in public health and biomedical research. As the committees are currently reviewing these bills, they are looking at them in terms of their importance to homeland security, particularly biosecurity and agrosecurity. These security issues are particularly important because of the growing concern for our country to be prepared for the potential occurrence of foreign animal diseases from either natural, unintentional, or malicious entry. The bills are being actively pursued by the AVMA's Governmental Relations Division, in Washington, D.C., with a close working relationship with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. We're also actively working with the AAVMC to acquire more sponsors for those particular bills.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Communications will be a key element as the AVMA moves forward in addressing these issues. We have a need here now to develop the image of the veterinary profession so that it depicts the value of veterinary medicine to society. The AVMA has an important responsibility in developing that image and then conveying it not only outside the profession to the public, government, and media, but also to the entire veterinary profession. The importance of unity in the profession and working together to address these issues is critical.