In China, the veterinary profession unites

AVMA, new Chinese VMA reach out to each other in partnership
Published on January 18, 2010
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

"This is an important event for veterinary medicine across the globe."

So said AVMA CEO W. Ron DeHaven as he congratulated one of the world's ancient cultures on forming its first national veterinary association.

In Beijing for the Oct. 28, 2009, launch of the history-making Chinese Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. DeHaven presented a gift from the AVMA at the opening ceremony. As a guest speaker at the inaugural seminar, he shared words of inspiration and a pledge of collaboration.

AVMA CEO W. Ron DeHaven presents a framed copy of the
Sept. 1, 2009, JAVMA cover featuring AVMA officials to
Chinese VMA Chairman Jia Youlin as a token of organizational support.

"AVMA is one of the oldest, largest veterinary medical associations in the world. We understand the value and power of organized veterinary medicine. We are able to speak for all veterinarians in the United States of America. My hope is that the Chinese Veterinary Medical Association will assume the same position in China," Dr. DeHaven said.

Chinese veterinarians already have local organizations such as the Beijing Small Animal Veterinary Association, but the Chinese VMA is their first national association. Government approval was required to establish it.

Dr. Jia Youlin is the new association's chairman. Dr. DeHaven began a working relationship with Dr. Jia while on a 2004 trip to China. They had held corresponding positions as chief veterinary officer in their respective countries, Dr. DeHaven as director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Dr. Jia as director of the Veterinary Bureau of China's Ministry of Agriculture. When Dr. Jia retired, he took on the challenge of forming a national association. Now, each is CEO of his association. The connection the colleagues developed as they worked together and shared ideas is a testament to what two veterinarians can set in motion.

Through an interpreter, Dr. Jia told JAVMA, "The establishment of the Chinese Veterinary Medical Association is regarded as a great, joyous event for Chinese veterinarians and also as a symbolic event in the history of the development of Chinese veterinary medical science, and it provides a new platform that will accelerate the development of a modern Chinese veterinary health service."

As of mid-December, 1,940 individual members and 370 corporate members had joined the association, and more than 500 Chinese veterinarians from 31 provinces and municipalities attended the inaugural meeting.

Dr. Jia said that Chinese veterinarians expect their new association to regulate entry qualifications for new veterinarians, improve industrial standards, regulate professional conduct, build a platform for information exchange, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of veterinarians.

In the U.S, being a veterinarian carries a degree of public credibility and prestige. In China, human medicine is more revered and was the first choice of many students who instead wound up in veterinary school. Often a student "chooses" to study veterinary medicine because he or she scores low in the university qualification examinations.

Dr. DeHaven said the Chinese VMA wants to increase the regard for veterinarians in their society. With public officials from many disciplines present at the inaugural seminar, he emphasized the importance of veterinarians not only to animal health but also to food safety and public health.

"By serving animals, we serve all of society," he said. "Nowhere is that more important than in China, with 1.3 billion people and a rapidly increasing standard of living. You now have 40 million pets—and that is growing 8 percent a year—and you are the world's most rapidly growing consumer of meat.

"It is veterinarians who will provide quality care to your pets and ensure a safe, affordable, abundant supply of animal-based food."

Dr. Tony Zilong Tan, business development director for Pfizer Animal Health's Asia Pacific region, based in Shanghai, acted as host and Mandarin-to-English translator for Dr. DeHaven during his visit.  

Pursuing quality education

A strong motivation for forming the Chinese VMA was to have a body similar to the AVMA that could accredit China's veterinary schools to ensure a consistent quality of veterinary education throughout the country. The new association is also looking to the AVMA to share its experience in enhancing the standard of veterinary care and raising the level of education. 

Dr. Lin Degui


Dr. Tony Zilong Tan

"Modern veterinary practice in China is yet at its starting stage," Dr. Jia stated in his meeting speech. "Both our veterinary education level and our overall technical capacity of veterinarians are greatly inferior to the international level. The qualifications of our veterinary-major graduates are not acknowledged by most countries."

Dr. Jia said that formation of the Chinese VMA will facilitate development of veterinary associations throughout China, optimize the country's veterinary system, and narrow the gap in veterinary education and practice between China and other countries.

The dean of the China Agricultural University College of Veterinary Medicine in Beijing, Dr. Wang Ming, estimated that there are anywhere from 300,000 to a million veterinarians in China.

Dr. DeHaven explained. "The reason they don't know how many veterinarians there are is that there has not been a quality assurance program to test them and establish a minimum standard, no AVMA that would track those kinds of numbers. There are 55 veterinary schools in China, and by their own admission, these run the gamut from very good to very poor in terms of quality of education.

"This visit highlighted for me the importance of the initiative that the OIE is currently undertaking to create a global minimum standard for veterinary education."

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) this past November issued 28 recommendations on how veterinary education must evolve worldwide and the role that OIE and its partners will undertake. Among them are to develop recommendations on a core curriculum model, to have veterinary education establishments in the developed world help those in developing countries, and to convene an expert group to conduct a global review of approaches to veterinary education and whether they should be modified.

With China's largely agriculture-based economy, most veterinary schools concentrate on teaching farm animal medicine. Interestingly, the college at Beijing was built in a rural agricultural community but has become enveloped in an urban environment. The college now runs just a small animal teaching hospital, which provides the only clinical experience its students receive. Throughout the country, each school's location determines the experience its students will receive.

Dr. DeHaven toured the Beijing teaching hospital the day after the inaugural festivities. He was well-received by Dr. Lin Degui, head of the hospital, and Dr. Shi Zhengsheng, deputy head of the hospital. Dr. DeHaven was told that, with the growing pet population in China, they have many clients who are interested in obtaining the best possible care for their pets, so the hospital is trying to improve the quality of its resources and equipment. The country's 40 million pets are split equally between dogs and cats.

"Interestingly, the teaching hospital gets about a hundred cases a day," Dr. DeHaven said. "About half of them are primary care and the other half are referrals. They have two examination rooms, three surgery rooms, and no appointments—it's totally walk-in, so staffing is a nightmare for them. This is a cultural thing where they can't get people used to making appointments."

Dr. DeHaven enjoys a moment with some of the veterinary students who attended the
inaugural meeting of the Chinese VMA in Beijing.

Veterinary system reform

Although the percentage of government veterinarians is higher in China than in the U.S., Dr. DeHaven said many practices are privately owned—both food animal and small animal, especially in rural areas. Some Chinese veterinarians are considered specialists, but there is no pathway by which they become board-certified.  

Vice Minister of Agriculture Gao Hongbin told the gathering that the veterinary system is being reformed by separating law enforcement from service. Surveilling and fighting serious disease threats will be the responsibility of one team of official veterinarians whose work is administered by the government. Providing technical and clinical services will be the responsibility of the other team, licensed veterinarians whose work is administered by the Chinese VMA.

Leading the Chinese VMA with Chairman Jia will be Dr. Zhang Zhongqiu, executive vice chairman and secretary-general.  

A partnership with potential

"Our Chinese colleagues have reached out to us," Dr. DeHaven said. "They recognize some areas that they want to improve, and those are areas where AVMA has substantial expertise and experience. The potential for us to cooperate and learn from each other is huge, and I hope that this trip was the first step to building a great friendship and partnership."  

It should not matter whether animals are in China, the U.S., or Mali, Africa, he said; to the extent that the U.S. veterinary profession can help them, it must.

Dr. DeHaven told the seminar audience, "We are a small profession, and healthy animals are critical for healthy people, so we need to work together for the health of all animals—pets; livestock, poultry, and fish; and wildlife."

Drs. Jia and DeHaven envision the two associations arranging exchange programs involving their staff members, their publications, and their association activities as well as student internships. The Chinese VMA is interested in studying the AVMA's organizational structures and operational practices, and Dr. DeHaven said the AVMA could find it useful to observe which of them the CVMA elects to adopt and not adopt.

What kind of relationship would Dr. Jia like to see between Chinese and U.S. veterinarians? Dr. Jia told JAVMA, "One world, one health. I hope that Chinese veterinarians and American veterinarians will deepen mutual understanding, maintain good communication, and strive for a closer cooperation."