Higher debt, lower salaries a continuing concern for grads
The impact of the recent economic downturn can still be felt in the U.S. and around the world. And while the veterinary profession has not gone unscathed, arguably those in the profession most affected by the downturn have been veterinary students and recent graduates.
According to figures from the 2011 AVMA annual survey of graduating veterinary students (JAVMA 2011;239:953–957), mean full-time starting salary for 2011 graduates—not including graduates pursuing advanced education—was $66,469, which was down 1.3 percent from the value for 2010 graduates ($67,359) and up only 2.5 percent from the value for 2009 graduates ($64,826).
The study also showed that for the approximately 90 percent of veterinary school graduates with debt, mean student debt increased from 2010 to 2011. Mean debt for 2011 graduates with debt was $142,613, a 6.5 percent increase from the value for 2010 graduates. Mean debt for 2009 graduates with debt was $129,216.
Dr. James F. Wilson, a veterinarian and lawyer who teaches veterinary students about personal finance, employment contracts, and career development, expects starting salaries for veterinarians to remain stagnant for the near future as the economy remains sluggish, and for debt to continue to increase as veterinary schools and colleges continue to raise tuition.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org, said this kind of situation—with debt at graduation increasing at a greater rate than starting salaries—will cause students to turn to longer loan terms, shift to lower-cost schools, default on their loans, or struggle to repay their debt.
Anecdotally, it appears many recent graduates have managed by making the minimum payments on their loan balances, not putting away money for retirement or savings, and putting off major purchases such as a home.
Yet, Kantrowitz remains optimistic about the veterinary profession. Thanks to the unwavering demand for veterinary health care and the high degree of skill required for practitioners, relatively well-paying jobs will always be available for graduates, he said. Whether the profession will continue to be open to everyone, however, has come into question.
That said, the clear need for action has caused the AVMA to ramp up efforts to address the financial problems of veterinary students and recent graduates.
A joint economic summit was held Jan. 15 in Orlando, Fla., in conjunction with the North American Veterinary Conference. The meeting of AVMA Executive Board members, representatives of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and veterinary college deans was intended to help the groups address the need for changes in veterinary education and improve economic conditions within the veterinary profession.
Meanwhile, in 2011, the AVMA Executive Board approved moving forward with a U.S. veterinary workforce study that will gather information on the available supply of veterinarians by spring 2012 and generate new information on the demand for companion animal veterinary services. The AVMA is already working in this area with the recent appointment of members to the Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee and the proposed development of a Veterinary Economics Division within the AVMA.
The Student AVMA has also taken action to help members. In July, the SAVMA House of Delegates created the Task Force on Economic Issues and charged it with taking a deeper look at economic issues of concern to veterinary students and to make sure the students' point of view is communicated.
The task force responded by sending out a survey to veterinary students this past November to gauge their knowledge about issues such as student debt and their financial literacy. A final report will be completed in time for the SAVMA HOD session March 14–17 at Purdue University during the annual SAVMA Symposium. SAVMA President Joseph M. Esch said the report should include recommendations to the SAVMA HOD on what action to take to help members, who have long been concerned about their debt load, starting salaries, and job prospects.
NIH suspends new chimp research grants
In December 2011, the National Institutes of Health froze all new grants for studies involving chimpanzees after an Institute of Medicine review found little scientific necessity for using man's closest genetic relative as a research model.
Dozens of ongoing, federally funded projects will be evaluated according to the new stringent conditions adopted by the NIH, which the IOM says are necessary to justify conducting research on chimpanzees.
Advances in alternative research tools and methods, including cell-based tests and other animal models, have made chimpanzees largely nonessential as research subjects, concluded the IOM report, issued Dec. 15, 2011.
Chimpanzee-related research must, therefore, meet the following criteria: The knowledge gained must be necessary to advance the public's health, there must be no other research model by which the knowledge could be obtained, the research cannot be ethically performed on human subjects, and the animals used in the proposed research must be maintained either in ethologically appropriate physical and social environments or in natural habitats.
Immediately after the IOM released its findings, NIH Director Francis S. Collins called the assessment “compelling and scientifically rigorous” and announced the agency would adopt the guiding principles and criteria recommended in the report.
An internal working group will devise a plan for implementing the IOM's proposals, Dr. Collins said, as well as decide what to do with the 612 federally owned chimpanzees housed at five national primate research facilities.
In the meantime, the NIH will award no new grants for studies involving chimpanzees and will review the approximately 37 agency-funded projects that currently do. Dr. Collins predicts half of them won't satisfy the stricter criteria.
Chimpanzees are used in a fraction of the estimated 90,000 studies the NIH supports each year, the IOM committee noted, explaining that between 40 and 50 studies using the nonhuman primates received agency funding each year from 2001–2010.
Research on chimpanzees is not limited to federally supported colonies and investigators. Chimpanzees owned by private and public entities are used in a variety of research applications including, but not limited to, studies of disease, drug and vaccine production, behavioral analyses, and conservation work. Research involving chimpanzees not owned by the NIH and studies not funded by the agency will not be directly impacted by the NIH decision.
Jeffrey Kahn, PhD, professor of bioethics and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, chaired the IOM committee that wrote the report, which was prompted by requests from Congress and the NIH for an evaluation of the current uses and potential future need for chimpanzees in agency-funded biomedical and behavioral research.
“The consensus of our committee was that we could not talk about the scientific necessity of the use of chimpanzees in research without talking about ethics. It's really at the core of any discussion about necessity,” Dr. Kahn explained.
The committee determined that using chimpanzees should be allowed only if forgoing their use would prevent or substantially hinder advances necessary to prevent or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions.
Additionally, the committee advised the NIH to limit the use of chimpanzees in behavioral research to studies that provide otherwise unattainable insights into normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion, or cognition.
“The committee concluded that research use of animals that are so closely related to humans should not proceed unless it offers insights not possible with other animal models and unless it is of sufficient scientific or health value to offset the moral costs. We found very few cases that satisfy these criteria,” Dr. Kahn explained.
The IOM committee stopped short of calling for an end to all federally funded research involving chimpanzees, however. Chimpanzees may be of value in developing a limited number of monoclonal antibody therapies and in comparative genomics research, the committee noted, as well as aiding in the development of a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C virus infection.
Chimpanzees might also be needed for future research to develop treatments or preventive measures for yet unknown diseases or disorders, the committee found.
Dr. Christian Abee, director of the Michale E. Keeling Center in Bastrop, Texas, one of the NIH-supported primate research centers, says the IOM principles are no different from what is already being practiced. And while he generally agrees with the IOM findings, Dr. Abee takes issue with the conclusion that most studies using chimpanzees are unnecessary. “This is a matter of debate among scientists,” he acknowledged.
Dr. Abee noted the IOM report is the first authoritative document acknowledging the possibility that new and emerging threats to human health may require access to chimpanzees for research purposes. A plan will have to be developed to ensure that chimpanzees are available in the future, he observed, along with an assessment of the number of chimpanzees that might be needed to meet future needs.
Despite the IOM committee's claims, critics say the panel failed to provide any new rigorous requirements that would justify conducting research on chimpanzees. The Kennedy Institute of Ethics responded to the report, stating: “Only human interests play a role in this justification; there is no detailed discussion of the many costs to chimpanzees as subjects; and, yet, as this IOM committee correctly notes, the problem of harms to chimpanzees and their moral status is what gave rise to the controversy to which the report is responding.”
The full report, “Chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research: Assessing the necessity,” is available at www.iom.edu/chimpstudy.
Research on deadly bat fungus receives $4M funding boost
Congress has directed the Department of Interior to dedicate $4 million from its 2012 endangered species recovery fund for white-nose syndrome research and related activities to stop a disease that's killed millions of bats in North America.
Language in the final Interior appropriations bill—part of the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055) President Obama signed this past December—directs the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to fund WNS research and response activities, including providing support to states involved in white-nose syndrome work.
The law also requires the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to prioritize research related to white-nose syndrome in bats and the inventorying and monitoring of bats on their lands.
The Interior Department has invested nearly $11 million in WNS-related research since the disease was first reported in 2007 in New York state. The outbreak has spread to hibernating bats in more than a dozen states and four Canadian provinces in the past five years.
More than a million bats have died of white-nose syndrome, making it the worst wildlife health crisis in memory, according to the USFWS.
“We're grateful that there is an appropriation to fight white-nose syndrome and save bats, although much more than $4 million is needed to truly combat this unprecedented wildlife crisis,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Studies delve into origins of domestic dogs
New studies have delved into the origins of domestic dogs and of modern European and American breeds.
Chinese researchers led a new study suggesting that domestic dogs originated from wolves in Southeast Asia, not the Middle East or Europe. The study appeared as a Nov. 23, 2011, advance online publication in the journal Heredity.
Analysis of mitochondrial DNA has suggested that wolf domestication occurred in Asia south of the Yangtze River. Previous studies involving archaeological records and analysis of single nu-cleotide polymorphisms in nuclear DNA suggested that wolf domestication occurred in Europe or the Middle East, but the authors of the new study in Heredity state that these data sets lack data from Asia south of the Yangtze.
The new study analyzed nearly 15,000 base pairs of Y-chromo-some DNA from 151 dogs from around the world. The authors found the highest genetic diversity among dogs from Asia south of the Yangtze, leading them to conclude that the region was the principal and possibly the sole region of wolf domestication.
Researchers from the University of California-Davis led another new study suggesting that dogs from Southeast Asia influenced modern European and American breeds much more than ancient Western or Middle Eastern dogs did. The study appeared Dec. 14, 2011, in the online journal PLoS One.
The researchers analyzed Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA from nine wild canids, 480 village dogs from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, 15 Australian dingoes, 45 desert-bred Salukis, and 93 dogs from 35 additional breeds or mixtures of breeds. The analysis suggested a surprising, substantial, and recent influence of Southeast Asian dogs in the creation of Western breeds.
Bats increasingly seen as vectors
Gerald T. Keusch, MD, said bats' significance as vectors could make them the “mosquitoes of the 21st century.”
Peter Daszak, PhD, said the animals have attracted study from numerous groups as having a role in outbreaks of diseases caused by Hendra, Nipah, Lyssa, Menangle, and Ebola viruses and the coronavirus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Dr. Keusch is a professor of medicine and international health at Boston University and an associate director of the National Emerging Diseases Laboratory. Dr. Daszak is president of Eco-Health Alliance, which conducts research and fieldwork at the intersection of health and conservation. Both are members of the Institute of Medicine Forum on Microbial Threats, and they made their comments during the Dec. 13–14, 2011, meeting “Improving Food Safety through One Health” in Washington, D.C.
A Hendra virus outbreak in 1994 killed one person and 13 horses in Queensland, Australia, Dr. Daszak said. Menangle virus outbreaks caused stillbirths and deformities in pigs during summer 1997 and sickened two workers in Sydney.
Stephen Luby, MD, an epidemiologist who directs the Centre for Communicable Diseases at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, described in a presentation at the meeting a series of Nipah virus outbreaks in Malaysia and Bangladesh.
The Malaysia outbreak started in September 1998 with acute febrile encephalitis and deaths among workers at pig farms, Dr. Luby said. By May 1999, the outbreak had killed 109 of the 283 people sickened.
The virus likely passed from bats to pigs when bats ate fruit from trees near pig housing, dropping fruit contaminated with bat saliva and urine, Dr. Luby said. Pigs likely transmitted the virus to people.
A 2005 Nipah outbreak in Bangladesh killed 11 of 12 people affected, Dr. Luby said. Epidemiologic investigation indicates the outbreak was one of many likely connected with date palm sap collection, which involves shaving segments of date palm trees and collecting running sap in suspended containers.
Observation in response to a 2008 outbreak found that, among seven trees watched over the course of a week, a mean of 15 bats visited the trees nightly, and bats licked sap from the shaved areas an average of 8.4 times nightly, Dr. Luby said. Pteropus bats can shed Nipah virus in their saliva.
Dr. Daszak said that, in markets where SARS emerged, tests on swab specimens from bats uncovered SARS-like coronoviruses. The test results suggest the animals are natural reservoirs for SARS-like viruses.
Dr. Keusch said difficulties in establishing experimental bat colonies has hindered study of bat transmission of pathogens. In addition, species differences across continents add to the difficulties in simulating natural conditions in controlled environments. He thinks the global community should help establish surveillance and laboratory capacity in areas where bat-source pathogens could emerge, to provide clues before diseases manifest from populations of animals, particularly those humans eat, cultivate, or domesticate.
Voting begins in Executive Board election
Three candidates have been nominated for two open seats on the AVMA Executive Board.
Dr. John A. Howe of Grand Rapids, Minn., is the sole nominee for District VII board representative, while the District IX seat is in contention between Drs. Billy R. Clay of Stillwater, Okla., and Michael L. Whitehair of Abilene, Kan.
Facing no challengers, Dr. Howe was declared elected to a six-year term on the Executive Board following the Feb. 1 nomination deadline. He will succeed Dr. Clark K. Fobian this August as board representative for AVMA members residing in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Dr. Howe started, developed, and now manages a four-doctor mixed animal practice in Grand Rapids and is a former president of the Minnesota VMA, which nominated him to the AVMA board. He has served on several MVMA committees and currently holds the vice chair seat on both the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service and Governance Performance Review Committee.
A 1977 graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Howe is a state-certified fish health inspector. He was appointed twice by the governor to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, for which he served a term as president, and he was a member of the Minnesota Veterinary Reserve Corps Advisory Committee.
Dr. Howe says the challenges facing the veterinary profession are considerable, and he looks forward to using his Executive Board office to identify and implement solutions. “My lifetime experiences give me a perspective to face the challenges ahead and help shape the future of our profession,” he said.
Areas of interest to Dr. Howe include scope-of-practice issues, animal welfare issues, changing philosophies of veterinary education, and national and state legislative issues affecting veterinary medicine and small business. “Helping the general practitioner realize the value of AVMA membership and the importance of involvement in organized veterinary medicine is also important to me,” he said.
Balloting for the District IX race is in progress. AVMA members living in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah will elect either Dr. Clay or Dr. Whitehair to succeed Dr. Ted Cohn as their new Executive Board representative this August.
Completed ballots must be received by the AVMA no later than April 1. The election winner will be announced that month.
Dr. Clay is a board-certified veterinary toxicologist who has worked for more than four decades as a private consultant. He also is an adjunct professor at the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he graduated in 1970.
Dr. Clay's Executive Board nomination was submitted by the Oklahoma VMA. He is a past president of the OVMA and has served on many of the association's committees, including the Animal Welfare Committee, which he currently chairs.
At the national level, Dr. Clay has been a member of the AVMA Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee and Environmental Issues Committee as well as the Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine. He has also represented the AVMA on a delegation to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and on the Environmental Protection Agency Farm Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee.
The Kansas VMA nominated Dr. Whitehair to the AVMA Executive Board. Currently, he is a partner in a mixed animal practice in Abilene. His clinical interests include beef cattle, feedlot, and equine medicine.
The 1974 Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine graduate has been active in organized veterinary medicine for many years. In addition to serving as president of the KVMA and the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, Dr. Whitehair represented his home state in the AVMA House of Delegates from 1997–2011. During that time, he was a House Advisory Committee member and spent a year as HAC chair.
Dr. Whitehair served on the committee that selected the AVMA executive vice president in 2007. More recently, he participated on the AVMA 20/20 Vision Commission and American Veterinary Medical Foundation Scholarship Committee for Rural Recent Graduates.
AVMF taking applications for disaster training, scholarships
The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is once again making available applications for its disaster training session grants and scholarship programs.
Each year, the Foundation sponsors state, regional, and national training sessions aimed at preparing veterinarians to care for animals before, during, and after a natural or man-made disaster. Up to $5,000 is available per session.
An organization may apply for sponsorship of one training session per year. The number of sessions to be sponsored in 2012 will depend on application merit and availability of funds. Applications are due by April 30; recipients will be notified by letter in June.
The application form is available at www.avmf.org by clicking on the links “What We Fund” and “Disaster Related Grants.” For more information on the application process or training sessions, contact Cheri Kowal, AVMF program and impact manager, at (847) 285–6691.
The Foundation also awards $1,000 scholarships annually to about 20 Student AVMA members enrolled in their first, second, or third year at an AVMA-accredited veterinary college or school in the United States. The AVMF application is also used to award the Winn Feline Scholarship of $2,500 and the $1,000 Mildred Sylvester Scholarship.
Students are encouraged to consider traditional and nontraditional careers as they move forward in their education, to understand the many options that the veterinary profession offers. On the application form, students are encouraged to identify their goals as a future veterinarian, share stories of what drove them to follow that path, and explain what they are currently doing to achieve their goals.
For application forms, visit www.avmf.org and click on the “What We Fund” and “Scholarships” links. Applications are due by May 15; recipients will be notified by letter by Sept. 15. For more information, contact Cheri Kowal.
Council nominations, YouTube videos due soon
The deadline for receipt of AVMA council nominations is close, and there's a new requirement for council candidates who want to be included in the electronic campaign guide.
Council candidates who want to be profiled in the 2012 AVMA Campaign Guide now must record and submit a 2-minute YouTube campaign video.
The House Advisory Committee sees the videos as an opportunity for all council candidates to introduce themselves before the delegates elect new council members.
April 1 is the deadline for receipt of council nomination forms, information for the campaign guide, and the YouTube videos.
Candidates who choose not to record a video will not be included in the campaign guide. A YouTube video is not required for House Advisory Committee or officer candidates, as they are required to give 2-minute speeches in person during the HOD regular annual session in San Diego.
A list of council vacancies, nomination forms, and details about the campaign guide and videos are posted online at www.avma.org; click on “Volunteer opportunities.” and select the link “Current Volunteer Opportunities” Or call AVMA headquarters at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6605.
Pharmacology research grant awarded
The Veterinary Pharmacology Research Foundation and the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation recently awarded the second research grant focusing exclusively on veterinary pharmacology. A grant of nearly $18,000 was awarded to Drs. Butch KuKanich and Kate KuKanich from Kansas State University to study the effect of cytochrome P450 inhibition on the disposition and pharmacologic effects of tramadol in dogs.
Twelve high-quality research proposals were submitted for evaluation by the scientific review committee. Investigators were encouraged to submit proposals that focused on research to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of therapies for veterinary species, explore new drug therapies for animals, develop and validate models of animal diseases or conditions, or ensure that a safe food supply is not compromised by drug therapy. These areas focus exclusively on unmet needs in veterinary medicine that are often overlooked by other funding sources.
The VPRF was formed in 2008 by members of the American Academy of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics and the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology who recognized that the lack of research funding was limiting growth in the field of veterinary pharmacology. This grant was made possible by donations from the AAVPT, Pfizer Animal Health, Torpac Inc, Pennfield Animal Health, Nexcyon Pharmaceuticals, and individual members of the AAVPT and ACVCP. The partnership between VPRF and ACVIMF builds on a longstanding relationship between veterinary pharmacologists and internists that promotes scientifically sound and humane research on drug therapy for animal diseases and training of future scientists.
Established in 2000, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose main purpose is to fund studies that lead to new diagnostic, treatment, and prevention techniques; to support the education of new specialists; and to increase public awareness of veterinary specialty medicine. Since 2002, the ACVIM Foundation has awarded more than $1 million to fund 63 studies and three fellowships.
Colorado's new dean comes from wildlife background
The head of The Walt Disney Co.'s animal operations will be the new dean of the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
The college announced Dec. 4, 2011, that Dr. Mark D. Stetter will begin working at CSU in May and become dean in July. He will succeed Dr. Lance E. Perryman, who will complete his tenure as dean in June. Dr. Perryman has been dean of the college since October 2001.
At Disney, Dr. Stetter oversaw the health and daily care of several thousand animals for the company's programs and parks around the world and managed a team of more than 500, including veterinarians, curators, zookeepers, and aquarists. He also helped oversee the company's international wildlife research and conservation programs.
Dr. Stetter serves as chair of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians' Research Committee and has served as chair of the Morris Animal Foundation's Wildlife Scientific Advisory Board and as a member of the American College of Zoological Medicine's executive board.
Before joining The Disney Co. in 1997, Dr. Stetter was a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society's Animal Health Center, working at several of the society's New York facilities, including the Bronx and Central Park zoos and the New York Aquarium. He also directed the Animal Health Care Center at the Audubon Nature Institute's Zoological Garden in New Orleans.
Dr. Stetter is a diplomate of the ACZM. He received his DVM degree from the University of Illinois in 1988.
Antiguan veterinary school closes
A university in Antigua suspended its veterinary program in late 2011.
American University of Antigua had opened its veterinary curriculum in January 2010 as a two-year program through which qualified students would complete their educations at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. A Dec. 15 announcement from Antigua indicated the veterinary program was closing at the end of the fall semester. AUA officials indicated they expected their students would be able to complete their studies at the St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grenada.
Margaret Lambert, dean of enrollment planning for St. George's University, said that those interested in transferring would be screened during the application process, and some could be required to complete additional undergraduate courses at St. George's before entering the veterinary school.
Dr. Jennifer L. Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs at Virginia-Maryland, said three students who were qualified to transfer from Antigua would begin study at her college in January. Virginia-Maryland had agreed to take up to five qualified students from Antigua every year, and January 2012 was the first time Antiguan students would be qualified to transfer under the agreement.