President's message

More information regarding food supply veterinary medicine

Rick SibbelThe ongoing discussion about food supply veterinary medicine is con-tinuing to heat up. In a recent AVMA article by Dr Ronnie Elmore,1 real facts and quantifiable information were shared. I will summarize some of Dr Elmore's comments for those of you who may have missed his paper.

He makes the case that adequate numbers of students interested in food animal veterinary medicine are being admitted to veterinary schools annually. He further says, "Unfortunately, a large proportion of these students do not ultimately go into food animal practice." A bit later in the article he indicates, "To attract new graduates, food animal practitioners must work closely with veterinary faculty to mentor veterinary students, aggressively advertise their employment opportunities, and provide attractive compensation packages." His commentary suggests that recruitment and nurturing at an early stage in the development of the veterinary student play a large role in what the student chooses to do following graduation. Could this mean that veterinarians need to spend time (maybe a lot of time) with the students during the academic years, helping to mold and influence their postgraduate choices? I am told that engineers and the engineering profession have been doing this for many years.

Some interesting facts that Dr Elmore talked about:

  • The US census data from 1990 showed that 1.6% of the people in the United States lived on farms.
  • It is estimated that of 1425 first-year veterinary students surveyed (class of 2006), approximately 16% were raised on farms or in towns of <1000 people, and approximately 32% grew up in towns of <25,000 people. This demonstrates that, compared to the general US population, a much larger percentage of veterinary students have a rural or semi-rural background.
  • It is estimated that 697 first year veterinary students (class of 2006) are interested in practices involving food animals.
  • Approximately 24% of entering students are male; 76% are female.
  • Approximately 44% of males and 27% of females are planning to go into practices with a food animal component.
  • When entrance qualifications for demographic differences are compared, the data clearly suggest that entering students educated in rural and semi-rural areas had academic qualifications equal to or exceeding those of the urban-educated students.
  • Data indicate that students going into veterinary medicine had made up their minds early in life (at 12 to 13 years of age).
  • Veterinarians and parents are the most influential people in helping the young, interested student choose a career path in veterinary medicine.
  • Average debt of veterinary students graduating in 2002 in the United States was approximately $67,775.

There were more data and figures in Dr Elmore's paper, but, clearly, he was making the case that veterinary students need mentoring and attention during the early years of the study curriculum. Most of us would have to admit that we have never considered this strategy in recruitment. Further, Dr Elmore goes on to say, "Food animal practitioners seeking new employees should consider compensation packages that include help with educational debt repayment ..." I am guessing that that has not been part of the strategy of most of the profession, either. When I was in practice 20 years ago, a business plan extending beyond 1 year was unheard of, and it is probably still not used very often today. A business plan extending 3 to 5 years into the future is necessary to consider assisting repayment of a new staff member's educational debt.

The collaborative effort by several food animal veterinary groups (Food Animal Summit Task Force) has finished the request for proposal (RFP) to begin the process of answering some of the questions surrounding these issues. I have spoken of this effort in a previous President's message. As a reminder: recruiting students and nurturing food animal interests makes up 25% of the effort being addressed in the RFP. The veterinary educator's seminar held at Purdue University earlier in the summer also emphasized several developing needs in food animal veterinary curriculums.

There is also some irony developing in veterinary medicine these days. As many of you know, the AVMA has successfully implemented plans encouraging companion animal veterinarians, educating them about business development, and ultimately enhancing their incomes as a result. A recent AVMA press release2 commented on a Consumer Reports article that was critical of how "money hungry" some veterinarians are. It shared ways to reduce the costs of veterinary care and in general was not flattering to the profession. It seems that as long as our profession undercharged for our services, we were highly respected by the public. As soon as we begin adopting sound business practices, we become 'profit mongers." Some irony there, I believe!

I recommend that all of you read the complete text of Dr Elmore's paper. It brings some hard facts to this topic. I am more encouraged every day that change in our profession is all around us. All of us have a large stake in the outcome of these discussions. If you have not opened a dialogue with your favorite veterinary school administrator, please do so. Curriculums are being investigated and will likely be "tweaked" to address some of these looming food animal veterinary issues. Every school needs to develop (or enhance) a proactive mentoring program for veterinary students at every level, including pre-vet. The AASV is a leader in deploying student enrichment programs. We are fine-tuning and financing such a program at several veterinary schools this year. Watch for it at a veterinary school near you!

A thought worth living: Innovate or fall behind.

We encourage you to bring ideas to us so we can continue to innovate.

Rick Sibbel

Reference - refereed

1. Elmore RG. Recruitment and retention of veterinary students for food animal practices. JAVMA. 2003;222:1697-1699.

Reference - non refereed

2. American Veterinary Medical Association web site. AVMA responds to Consumer Reports. Press release, June 12, 2003. Available at: consumer_reports _030612. asp. Accessed June 26, 2003.