AVMA funds economic study of veterinary workforce

Plan for pet and horse health research network also moves forward
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The AVMA Executive Board has appropriated more than half a million dollars to conduct an economic analysis of the U.S. veterinary workforce and to fund a national network supporting health and wellness studies benefiting companion animals and horses.

Board members approved the programs in accordance with the goals of the Association’s strategic vision that call for strengthening the economics of the veterinary profession and advancing veterinary scientific research and discovery.

AVMA strategic funds were tapped to pay for the initiatives—up to $330,000 for the workforce study and $250,000 to implement the research program. Both proposals were part of a larger agenda considered by the Executive Board during a meeting at AVMA headquarters, April 19-21 (see stories).

The workforce study was proposed by the AVMA Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee. The committee recommended the board allocate up to $330,000 from the AVMA National Economics Strategy Fund for the project. The study will identify, quantify, and evaluate various economic, demographic, technologic, and sociologic factors influencing the supply and demand for veterinarians and veterinary services across the nation.

The committee chose IHS Global Insight, a Washington, D.C., economics consulting firm, to conduct the study in partnership with the New York Center for Health and Workforce Studies. IHS will also create and provide the AVMA with a veterinary workforce forecasting model to estimate future supply and demand under alternative scenarios.

To assist the workforce researchers, the board formed an advisory committee comprising the AVMA economics committee, an Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges representative, and AVMA staff.

We need to gain a big picture, strategic perspective before we can utilize that knowledge to formulate tools or advice to the benefit of individual members.

Dr. Ted Cohn, AVMA Executive Board chair

Knowledge about the various factors driving demand for veterinarians and veterinary services is an essential component of AVMA activities ensuring the profession’s economic viability, according to Dr. Link Welborn, Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee chair.

“The relative supply of veterinarians and the demand for the services of those veterinarians obviously has a significant impact on the economics of the profession,” Dr. Welborn said. “Understanding the dynamics of supply and demand for each of the major segments within the veterinary workforce is critical to understanding and potentially influencing the overall economics of those segments.”

Work on the study begins this year and is expected to be completed in 2013.

As Executive Board chair, Dr. Ted Cohn was a key figure in the AVMA’s establishing a division and committee dedicated to veterinary economics, and he has been an advocate for the study. He hopes the analysis will not only yield a fuller understanding of the veterinary workforce but will also improve veterinarians’ financial situation. But first, Dr. Cohn said, “We need to gain a big picture, strategic perspective before we can utilize that knowledge to formulate tools or advice to the benefit of individual members.”

Animal Health Network

The millions of dollars directed to companion animal and equine health studies in the United States each year pale in comparison with the billions spent on human and livestock health investigations. One explanation for this is the absence of a national organization whose sole purpose is supporting research for both pet and horse health.

The AVMA Executive Board has sought to remedy this funding imbalance since 2007, when it first approved a Council on Research plan establishing an Institute for Companion Animal and Equine Research. Since then, the board has continued supporting the concept while plans for the organization have evolved.

The latest proposal originated within an AVMA Strategic Goal Team and was brought to the Executive Board by the AVMA Office of the Executive Vice President. The recommendation was for the American Veterinary Medical Foundation to manage a national effort to raise awareness about health-related research for dogs, cats, and horses and increase investment in such studies.

The plan approved by the board allocates a total of $250,000 from the AVMA Strategic Goal Fund in 2012-2013 for the AVMF to develop, promote, and launch what is now tentatively referred to as the Animal Health Network.

“The Animal Health Network has long been a dream for the members of the (Council on Research), who have spent several years discussing and working with AVMA to address the desperate need for increasing support for research into diseases and disorders that afflict animals, particularly companion animals,” COR Chair Kent Lloyd said.

“The COR envisions AHN to begin to address this deficiency by generating financial support; coordinating like-minded groups, foundations, and other entities with the AVMF; and expanding the kinds and level of scientific investigation into enhanced diagnostics, novel therapeutics, and new preventative strategies to improve animal health,” Dr. Lloyd explained.

The idea behind the AHN is that investment in pet and equine health studies will increase if like-minded foundations work together within a single organization. Last year, several feline organizations and the AVMF came together as the Cat Health Network, a species-specific pilot component of the AHN providing $100,000 annually for feline health studies in U.S. and foreign laboratories (see JAVMA, Nov. 15, 2011).

Although the details have yet to be worked out, the AHN might model its marketing and business strategy after the Children’s Miracle Network. Donors could make contributions to a local AHN chapter or the AHN’s national office, with the option that their donations go to a specific project or institute conducting studies related to companion animal or horse health.

“The AVMF has had as one of its strategic goals for most all of its 50 years the support of animal health research,” said AVMF Executive Director Michael Cathey. “We are particularly excited about the new syncing up of the AVMF and the AVMA strategic goals to both reflect the support of research and look forward to the building out of a new umbrella program to focus on the awareness of, and funding for, the health of animals.”