do search
Home AASV Publications News JSHAP Links Members Meetings Students Foundation Employment  
 JSHAP Navigation: | Issue list | This issue's Contents |

Rick SibbelPresident's message

"FSVM": Oh great, another acronym!

Just what we need in our lives, another acronym! It means Food Supply Vet-erinary Medicine. It is "the" topic in discussions within the AVMA, veterinary species groups, and the federal and state agencies that employ veterinarians. Just what is FSVM? It is all the things we have been doing in veterinary medicine for the last century (especially in food animal medicine) and encompasses all the things we need to do for the next century. It includes production animal veterinary medicine, food safety, food surveillance, animal husbandry issues, evolving consumer demands, risk management issues, and other issues yet to be clearly mapped out in the continuum of meat as a source of food. It brings great energy to the debate on how to best educate the veterinarians of today and tomorrow. It tends to ask our educators for disciplines that aren't really about individual case assessment. The companion animal sector of our profession will want to continue on the path of better educational delivery of individual animal medicine (as well they should, since nearly all the economic growth in fee-for-service in the last 10 years has been in this consumer area). The rest of the veterinary community is going to find most evolving opportunities in this new veterinary arena. Our educational leaders are struggling mightily to properly recruit and assign resources to fulfill the mission of being all things to all people interested in veterinary medicine. We definitely are in tumultuous times!

First a few facts (soft facts without statistical numbers!) that we must not forget. Great changes are occurring in the demographics of students in the admitting classes of all of our North American veterinary schools. Besides the obvious (fewer males and more females), the type of background and interests of admitting students are dramatically changing to more urban and less rural. In the past 100 years, the best predictor of an extended career in food animal veterinary medicine was the address where the student was reared during the formative years of birth to high school. The second best predictor was zealous food animal veterinary mentoring during these formative years. No one will argue that today, veterinary students with these two predictors as part of their bias are fast becoming a minute minority. Some species groups could argue that they need only a few top quality veterinarians to carry on the needs of their species businesses (the poultry and aquatic veterinary groups have ample evidence of this). Veterinary schools all over this great continent are struggling with the resource allocations for their respective schools. They must balance the ever growing reality that large masses of students are less and less interested in veterinary medicine outside of individual case assessments and interventions. Yet most of our veterinary schools were built on the demands of taking care of animal agriculture. The infrastructure of financial, tax-funded support still reflects that historical cornerstone.

Recently, I was alerted to the dramatic reality that by 2006-2007, there will be as many as 500 additional positions providing veterinary opportunities at the federal and state level. These positions will best be filled by food animal (ie, food supply educated) veterinarians. I was persuasively informed that these should not be thought of as "meat inspector" positions. Many various, exciting opportunities in the evolving food supply continuum are a growing reality. The ability to provide enough veterinarians to fill these evolving roles is critical to our profession, because the need will not go unfilled - business opportunities will absolutely demand that. It is likely that other professions and educationally prepared disciplines will fill these roles if we do not.

So where might we head in answering some of these questions? There are innovators in veterinary education and they are certainly not sitting still. I reviewed a brand new curriculum that is on paper and receiving administrative attention for development very soon. It suggests an entirely separate admissions process and a different timeframe for graduation for food animal veterinary students. I'm very encouraged by the risk being taken with this bold idea. Without risk, there is usually very little achievement. Some veterinary schools are pushing forward with new means of educating students interested in the curricula of the food supply veterinarian. The commitment to this need by the deans within the American Association of Veterinary Medical Schools (AAVMS) is evident in their recent report addressing the curriculum changes recommended to the membership.

The AVMA is pushing very hard in support of the proposed National Veterinary Medical Service Act. The personnel of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division are helping compose the final draft as I write this. Veterinarians who are willing to relocate to an under-served area after graduation will be provided with the financial repayment of costs associated with getting their degrees and practicing in those areas. This is sorely needed, as the cost of veterinary education is escalating each year. The AVMA is also pushing very hard on putting equity back in the pay discrepancy between veterinarians and physicians doing the same jobs at the federal level (I'm told this difference is as high as $20,000 to $30,000). The successes of these initiatives are directly related to the evolving changes necessary in the disciplines of recruiting, educating, and retaining food supply veterinarians. We are leveraging our support of these initiatives through the many committees and contacts engaged in regularly by AASV members.

Your own AASV has had a committee, the Veterinary Medical Education Task Force, that has been engaged in much dialogue on many of these same issues for nearly 2 years. We have been at several meetings with the Food Animal Species Task Force, which is an amalgamation of ruminant and swine veterinarians as well as the AVMA and AAVMS. Recommendations to push forward with assessments and action plans about recruitment, mentoring, and incentives for careers in Food Supply Veterinary Medicine are being formulated. Stay tuned to see what we accomplish. We also may knock on your door for help as we move down this road. For those of you engaged in businesses serving the swine sector, please contact me with your ideas on how you can get involved both as a resource and as a benefactor.

All the traditional skills that make you a terrific swine veterinarian are absolutely needed as we go forward. Training and more training in traditional aspects of swine veterinary medicine are necessary and should not be changed, only enhanced. But the new skills needed will be ever more obvious as we mold our next generations into the "Food Supply Veterinarians" of the future.

Thanks to all the volunteers and staff that assisted in the delivery of a very successful 2003 annual meeting in Orlando. It was a rousing success.

May you have much peace and prosperity until the next time we talk.


--Rick Sibbel