Views on NAVMEC draft report shared

Academics evaluate core competencies, sharing resources
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Leaders in veterinary academia were asked to give their input on the draft recommendations from the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium, and they didn't hold back. They conveyed as much concern about the future of veterinary education as others in the profession have, but it was clear that there was a range of opinions, with little agreement on how to address the serious problems that exist.

The discussion was held at the 2011 Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges Annual Conference March 10-13 in Alexandria, Va., during a two-hour session intended to solicit feedback on the NAVMEC draft report. The facilitators were Dr. Willie M. Reed, AAVMC president and dean of Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Eleanor M. Green, dean of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; and Dr. Bennie I. Osburn, chair of the NAVMEC board of directors and dean of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

2011 AAVMC Annual Conference
Dr. David R. Hodgson, head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, jokes with colleagues during a break at the 2011 AAVMC Annual Conference.

Giving their input

The consortium comprises several hundred stakeholders in veterinary education, including private practitioners, government and industry representatives, and faculty members. Approximately 400 individuals from 150 groups participated in a series of three national meetings in 2010 to discuss core competencies needed by graduates; to review and explore progress in developing educational models to deliver new approaches to the veterinary curriculum; and to explore relationships between education, accreditation, and licensure. Using the outcomes from those gatherings, the NAVMEC board of directors developed an initial draft report and recommendations, organized around the following five strategic goals:

  • Graduate career-ready veterinarians who are educated and skilled in an agreed-upon set of core competencies.
  • Ensure that admissions, curricula, accreditation, and testing and licensure are competence-driven.
  • Strive for a veterinarian's education that is maximally cost-effective.
  • Ensure that an economically viable system for veterinary medical education is sustained.
  • Stimulate a profession-wide sense of urgency and focus on action.

Before the report is finalized, the AAVMC is seeking comments. Participants at this discussion session reflected the composition of attendees at the AAVMC Annual Conference, who included many deans, other academic administrative leaders, and smaller numbers of faculty from U.S. and foreign veterinary schools.

Some audience members said they were worried the strategic goals were too prescriptive for institutions.

Dr. Bryan K. Slinker, dean of Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, for instance, said he wanted clarification on a subpoint in the first recommendation that states: "All competencies are integrated and taught in every year of the curriculum." Does this, he asked, mean NAVMEC doesn't want schools to do tracking?

Dr. Reed assured him that wasn't the case and underscored that it is this type of comment that can help the NAVMEC board of directors review the way recommendations are worded and avoid unintended interpretations.

Dr. Stephen May from the University of London Royal Veterinary College doubted whether some of the core competencies were achievable for recent graduates, specifically the core competency "efficient operation of business, financial literacy, and resource management."

"I may have been a little slow as a student, but it was 10 to 15 years postgraduation when I thought I could deploy human resources to my satisfaction," he said.

Dr. Jim Thompson, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, questioned whether veterinary schools and colleges, including his own, would have the faculty expertise in the first place to produce graduates who would be skilled in business.

A solution held up by the NAVMEC draft report for schools lacking particular resources has been the Veterinary Internet Course Exchange. It's a cooperative intended to provide students with access to Internet-based learning materials and courses.

A different approach

Not many in the audience seemed optimistic about seeking more federal or state support for schools to ensure an economically viable education system. Dr. Slinker suggested not giving up on that effort per se, but instead, shifting the way the veterinary schools and colleges pursue it.

"In the past, those strategies have focused on how can we improve our facilities. I wonder if the model the Army Veterinary Corps uses might be a mechanism to promote (veterinary education). It allows agencies to tailor support for workforce needs in proportion to the area they need. Instead of money given directly to schools, maybe it could be done indirectly, like government agencies patronizing schools."

Andrew Rowan, PhD, executive vice president for operations at the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, suggested going after untapped dollars from the public.

"We talk about the human-animal bond in veterinary medicine but ignore the fundraising aspects of this. The issue is that there is tremendous potential in the pet-owning public. They will give money. There's a lot of money out there schools aren't accessing," Dr. Rowan said.

Some saw promise in alternative educational models as an answer to the fourth NAVMEC strategic goal.

Dr. William J. Kay, a private small animal practitioner from Plymouth Meeting, Pa., and former AVMA Council on Education member, asked whether pre-veterinary programs were essential when there are educational models in Australia, Europe, and Latin America that reduce the time students spend seeking their veterinary degree.

"My colleagues from other parts in the world who complete pre-vet and veterinary education in five or six years are building on their high school education, which is provided at a higher level than in the U.S., and that's one reason we think we need some pre-vet requirements here," Dean Osburn said. "Whether we continue to have the same pre-vet requirements or make some modification is open for discussion."

Dean Green reminded the audience about the out-of-the-box curriculum proposed at the second NAVMEC meeting. It is an accelerated tracking model that would potentially be a three-year program in which pre-clinical distance learning opportunities would be maximized.

Wrapping things up

Deans Reed, Green, and Osburn thanked the session participants for their comments and emphasized that their input would be considered by the NAVMEC board of directors when it meets in late May or early June to develop the final draft report. That document will be submitted to the AAVMC board of directors for final approval at its summer meeting July 18 during the AVMA Annual Convention in St. Louis.