Making progress one meeting at a time

Student debt, workforce discussed by AAVMC, AVMA leaders
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At the third joint AVMA-Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges Economic Meeting, held during the AVMA Annual Convention in San Diego, attendees learned more about the AVMA workforce study and an AAVMC-sponsored proposal to launch an initiative aimed at providing students with debt planning and management tools.

Dr. Link Welborn, AVMA Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee chair, said meeting participants also discussed other areas of potential collaboration, such as a profession-wide effort to increase funding for veterinary colleges, new career opportunities for veterinarians, and a wide-scale teaching strategy for low-demand veterinary careers.

Relative to the AVMA veterinary workforce study, the veterinary leaders heard how those conducting the study will assess the current and future supply of and demand for veterinary services, determine the degree of geographic imbalance in supply and demand, conduct research on key factors and trends affecting veterinarian workforce decisions, and create a model for “scenario planning.” Plus, they learned the study will quantify implications of key trends and factors related to the demand for veterinary services, the economic viability of practice, and models of care delivery.

The study seeks, in part, to “fill in the gaps” in the National Research Council veterinary workforce study, released in May, by conducting a survey of more than 11,000 veterinarians—a substantial increase from the 3,000 initially planned—and looking at questions such as shifts in retirement patterns and how the number of hours worked reflects the age and gender mix of the profession.

Dr. Welborn said that in addition to analyzing a spectrum of data sources, the study contractor (IHS Global Insight) is interviewing subject matter experts. And, many of the concepts discussed at the first two joint economic meetings have been considered in the design of the study.

So far, the AVMA Workforce Advisory Group has reviewed the first interim report, which primarily addressed supply, he said. Additional interim reports are expected in October and December, with the final report and scenario planning model due in April 2013.

As for the AAVMC student debt initiative, in April, the association contracted with Dr. Donna Harris as a project manager to research and develop recommendations for improving veterinary students’ ability to manage their educational debt, including financial aid counseling. Dr. Harris teaches business and career development topics at the Michigan State University and St. Matthew’s University veterinary schools.

She has worked with the AAVMC Student Debt Initiative Advisory Group to recommend specific steps that schools can take to educate and assist students, and she issued a report in August. It has data and best practices for assisting veterinary students with their large educational debt, and salary data broken down into three time periods for debt management education: as a preveterinary student, veterinary student, and early-career veterinarian.

For preveterinary students, the advisory group recommends updating the “Options for funding your veterinary medical education” section of the AAVMC website in the coming months and allowing Dr. James Lloyd, associate dean for budget, planning, and institutional research at Michigan State University, to record a video to post on the Veterinary Medical College Application Service website in the near future. It would touch on career choice, salary, and loan repayment options for preveterinary students.

In addition, the advisory group offered to develop for VMCAS prototypes of a “cost of applying” calculator and an interactive map of veterinary schools highlighting tuition at each. A technology company would have to ultimately create the online tools, but the prototypes would allow bids to be obtained. The group estimates the cost at $10,000.

Further into the future, the report recommends looking into the feasibility of a preveterinary course focused on careers options and how they relate to potential lifetime earnings, perhaps offered online.

For current veterinary students, the advisory group wants the AAVMC to commit resources to develop a four-year financial literacy curriculum for shared use among veterinary colleges. Web-based learning modules would be housed on the AAVMC website. According to the report, the key to success would be creating guides for small group discussions, homework assignments, and assessments.

“This would create an active learning environment and would be critical to students’ abilities to relate the information to their own situations. Recent graduates and/or content experts would ideally moderate these discussions so that individual real-life stories would be part of the learning process,” according to the report.

The advisory group noted that the curriculum should have the flexibility to be used in a variety of courses (core or elective), clinical rotations, or workshops. Or, it could be included as part of the student-run Veterinary Business Management Association’s business certificate program (see JAVMA, Feb. 1, 2012).

And finally, the group recommends developing and maintaining an online private organizer for students to input and track their educational loans. This type of program could be developed internally with a project manager and experts at member institutions.

The AAVMC will now consider the report’s recommendations and implement them accordingly.

Dr. Andrew Maccabe, executive director of the AAVMC, said, “Education debt management is best presented as part of a financial education package with the goal of helping students become economically successful veterinarians by making informed financial decisions.”

The AAVMC and AVMA plan to continue meeting and working cooperatively, with plans to reconvene at the North American Veterinary Conference in January 2013 in Orlando, Fla.