Passing workforce expansion bill Hammer's top priority

Profession-wide support key to success
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Dr. Gregory S. HammerAs 2007-2008 AVMA president, Dr. Gregory S. Hammer will work for the passage and funding of a bill before Congress that would increase the number of veterinarians working in food safety, food systems, biomedical research, and other public health-related areas of practice.

Dr. Hammer announced his presidential agenda to the AVMA House of Delegates July 13 in Washington, D.C. The practitioner from Dover, Del., won the race for AVMA president-elect during the HOD meeting in Hawaii this past year. Dr. Hammer succeeded Dr. Roger K. Mahr as president on July 17 at the conclusion of the AVMA Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.

The Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act is vital to solving a "crisis" in the veterinary workforce, according to Dr. Hammer. The veterinary shortage has reached critical levels in public health practice, including areas that ensure food safety, combat bioterrorism, and oversee environmental health and regulatory medicine. This is in addition to the dearth of rural and food supply veterinarians, he said.

"Together, these (shortages) threaten our country's ability to protect our nation's wholesome food supply from farm to fork," he said. "The good news is that we have both the capacity and the opportunity to fix this problem while it still can be solved."

The workforce expansion act (H.R. 1232/S. 746), introduced earlier this year in the House and Senate, would establish a 10-year, $1.5 billion competitive federal grants program to build research, diagnostic, and training capacity in U.S. veterinary schools and colleges. The Senate passed a modified version of the legislation July 23 as an amendment to the Higher Education Reauthorization Bill.

The bill directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to award the grants on the basis of applicants' ability to improve the supply and training of veterinarians working in public health practice areas. Increasing capacity in research involving high-priority disease agents is also a consideration for grant approval.

Preference would be given to applicants demonstrating a comprehensive approach by involving more than one veterinary school or college, department of comparative medicine, or school of medicine, or by offering veterinarians a postgraduate residency training program in various public health areas.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges is supporting the bill, and the AVMA has made its passage a priority.

"At a time when more and more emerging diseases are zoonotic and the potential for bioterrorism and food safety disasters is increasing, our capacity to respond is decreasing," Dr. Hammer observed. "There is nothing we can do to change the past, but we can, as a profession, control our future."

Dr. Hammer directed AVMA councils and committees to develop plans of action at their fall 2007 meetings that will support passage of the workforce expansion bill during this 110th Congress. He asked all state VMAs and allied organization to contribute to the effort by creating their own plans of action and grassroots activities.

Officers and executive directors of those organizations should present action plans to their membership that will support the involvement of members and their clients, he added.

"President Kennedy once said, 'There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.' I am pleading with you to take his advice to heart and let our nation's leaders know that public health veterinarians are an important key to our country's health, safety, and security," Dr. Hammer said.

And finally, Dr. Hammer made delegates promise not to discourage people from careers in veterinary medicine. "How many times, when you've talked to someone that wants to be a veterinarian, have you used phrases like 'too many hours' or 'too much debt' or 'too low of a salary?'"

Veterinarians must stop advocating against their profession, he admonished.

"Colleagues, we must use our limitless passion to plead our case for passage of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act," Dr. Hammer said. "We must channel our infinite enthusiasm for our profession into encouraging young people to become veterinarians. And, we must sustain our hope that the future is bright for the next generation of veterinarians and, most of all, for the well-being of our nation."