Curriculum and priority changes needed in veterinary medicine

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WASHINGTON —More attention is needed to recruit and prepare the next generation of veterinarians for teaching and research positions as well as for jobs in state diagnostic laboratories, federal research and regulatory agencies, and the pharmaceutical and biologics industry. That’s according to a new National Research Council (NRC) report released today.

 Although the supply of veterinarians is growing, more than half of today’s students are focusing on companion animal or pet medicine.  The other burden that young veterinarians are facing is the rising debt associated with a veterinary education. This may inhibit graduates from pursuing Ph.D. training that would prepare them for academic careers, key jobs in the public sector, and some positions in industry, the report points out.  

Adding to the challenge is the fact that cost-cutting measures at universities have adversely affected the veterinary curriculum. Colleges and schools of veterinary medicine increasingly are unable to hire faculty to teach the “less popular fields of veterinary medicine and to support graduate research training.”  By less popular, the report means veterinary medicine associated with food-animal production, diagnosis and research.

"Companion animal medicine and its growing number of specialties that improve the health and lives of pets has been a success story, but it dominates veterinary schools' curriculum and resources, sometimes to the detriment of equally critical fields," says Alan Kelly, emeritus professor of pathology and pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  "We must ensure that schools train qualified veterinarians in sync with the diverse and growing array of societal needs."

 A potential shortage of professionals with training beyond a Doctor of Science in Veterinary Medicine could impact the supply of veterinarians to fill jobs involved with overseeing and enforcing food safety and animal health standards. But the report also points out an off-shoot consequence could involve a lack of related expertise to conduct research in human-drug development. Other areas where this could have an impact, according to the report are research to advance pet health, participating in wildlife and ecosystem management, infectious disease control, biosecurity and agro-terrorism prevention.  

Kelly points to food-animal production as an example of a sector that is changing dramatically in the U.S. and abroad, and consequently veterinary medicine demands are changing as well. He notes that large U.S. producers need veterinary services to focus on "herd health" while small producers, who have difficulty collectively supporting a full-time veterinarian, need primary animal care.  Having fewer veterinarians in rural areas raises concerns about the level of animal disease surveillance in the field, which is critical to the prompt detection of outbreaks with potentially massive economic consequences.

In developing countries, where meat demand is growing, crowding animals in hot, humid conditions places the health of animals, humans, and ecosystems at risk and is unsustainable.  "The fact that 60 percent of all infectious diseases in humans are of animal origin and 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in the last decade arose from animals underscores the importance of maintaining expertise in other areas of veterinary medicine," Kelly explains. 

Addressing these challenges depends on the profession's commitment to promote and develop diverse career paths in veterinary medicine and on the efficient delivery of veterinary services, which in some cases may mean using veterinary technicians to extend the field's reach, the report notes. 

The report's recommendations center on partnerships among professional veterinary organizations, academia, industry, and government.  “These groups could form a national consortium or committee to focus on the economic sustainability of the profession in all sectors of service, education and research, with the intent of developing a national veterinary curriculum that could be delivered electronically or through alternative measures,” the report outlines. Other points that the report outlines, includes: 

  • Veterinary medical organizations and the deans of veterinary colleges could work to increase the profession's visibility, standing, and potential to address global food security.
  •  Establish a health-oriented think tank designed to advance sustainable food-animal husbandry practices, welfare policies, ecosystem health standards and the veterinary profession in the developing world. This could help future generations of veterinarians collaborate across professions, disciplines, and cultures. 
  • This body also could evaluate the competencies required of U.S. veterinary graduates to address the global challenges of food and water safety and security, the impact of urbanization on food supply systems, and the health of wildlife and ecosystems.

The study was sponsored by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and Bayer Animal Health Inc. 

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Lynn Caldwell DVM    
Silverton, OR  |  May, 31, 2012 at 01:25 PM

This study, done by the AVMA, AAVMC and AAHA, that finds a need for more veterinarians is like a study done by the Federal Government that probes the burning question of whether or not more government workers are needed due to a lack of government workers in rural areas. How self-serving and completely Keynesian. This demonstrates an absolute lack of understanding of the laws of economics and free-markets. Where there is no DEMAND for a good or service, there will be no supply of the same. Now, let's talk about why there is NO DEMAND in rural areas. That should be interesting. Then we can talk about the "New World Order/global medicine" propaganda that is thrown in at the end of the article. This is becoming a frightening example of government interference in professions and markets. I feel sorry for the population of new graduate veterinarians who are enormously in debt to the government; a government that obviously has plans for them. Lynn Caldwell, DVM Silverton, OR

Richard Brown DVM    
Harrison AR  |  May, 31, 2012 at 06:41 PM

I agree with your remarks. Perhaps the federal government should look at their involvement in the reduction of the number of small family farms and the increase in the corporate farms. As we all should have learned by now, if the government wants to help you solve any type of problem, the sensible response would be to turn and move away.

Boston, MA  |  May, 31, 2012 at 02:10 PM

I agree. If the government can offer to supply a salary equivalent to the debt post-graduation, then perhaps there might be more interest in this area. It's discouraging to see higher government salaries go to MDs, whereas the payscale for someone with a DVM or a DVM/PhD is considered the same as someone with a PhD alone. As for other areas of importance that are underserved by the profession, such as biomedical research that is not just pinholed to lab animal medicine or pathology, I'd like to see where the demand is as well.

Christine Tuma, DVM    
NY  |  June, 06, 2012 at 09:26 AM

They've been saying there's a "shortage" since before I graduated (2007). What they are unable to answer is this: if there is a perceived "shortage", why is it that myself and my recently-graduated colleagues are having a hard time finding jobs? And why is it, also, that the jobs available do not come close to being able to address our financial aid debt burden? I agree 100% with Dr. Caldwell's comments, as I too, am struggling to make a living in a rural, economically depressed area. This is certainly NOT what I signed up for as a vet, and I actually discourage others from pursuing this profession, simply because puppy breath and wet kisses do not pay the bills. And Sallie Mae does NOT care.

SD  |  June, 11, 2012 at 06:02 PM

It's interesting that the only comments so far are from DVM's. I'm part of a ranching family, grandparent of a determined young vetrinary student, hopeful, but fearful of a job capable of paying her school debt. However, I live in an area of larger ranches that are probably under-served by DVM/s. My guess is the 'patient' load of our great local vets is very high, and the miles are even longer than their days! While short on answers, the plans that help pay school costs for Vet's practicing in very rural areas seems helpful. Are the 'excess' numbers of DVM's doing large animal practice, or small animal? Small seems to a non-DVM logically the easier, and more lucrative practice. What are the facts on that question?

veterinary manufacturers  |  September, 05, 2012 at 03:40 AM

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Pet Meds Canada    
Canada  |  March, 07, 2013 at 04:46 AM

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