JAVMA News Digest

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Pulling together to lower the debt-to-income ratio


Rebecca Ober, a fourth-year veterinary student at Kansas State University, says high educational debt among veterinary students and recent graduates is always seen as someone else's problem. (Photo by Malinda Larkin)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 77, 7; 10.2460/ajvr.77.7.668

Educational debt is a national concern across professions; however, veterinary medicine has the highest debt-to-income ratio, at least among the various health professions, according to a 2013 article in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2013;369:1973–1975). The article cited slow rises in veterinary income as educational debt “exploded.”

To address this complex issue, the Economics of Veterinary Medical Education Summit was held April 20–22 at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, co-hosted by the college, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and the AVMA.

Many good ideas came from the 180 summit attendees, who represented various facets of the profession. There's the potential for more widespread advocacy efforts over better terms for student loans. The ideas put forward for revamping veterinary schools include shortening preveterinary requirements and increasing scholarship availability and dollar amounts. And there's an opportunity to improve financial literacy for applicants and veterinary students.

The collective goal over the three-day summit was to agree on specific strategies to address the many facets of this complex challenge, with the idea of focusing on the debt-to-income ratio as a way to measure progress. Among the 2015 graduates of the accredited U.S. veterinary colleges, the DIR was 2:1, meaning that, on average, educational debt was approximately twice the starting income.

Michael Dicks, PhD, the AVMA's chief economist, said he is going to be the “scorekeeper” of the DIR going forward. And he outlined four major goals that he calculates would reduce that number.

The first would be to eliminate the difference between debt students incur and the actual cost to attend, through better management of expenses, potentially resulting in $9 million in savings. The second goal would be to eliminate interest on loans during school through lobbying efforts, which would save $22 million, Dr. Dicks estimates. Third would be to grow starting salaries by 10 percent by improving practice profitability, allowing new graduates to earn more. This could mean another $22 million in reducing the DIR. And last would be to reduce educational costs by 10 percent through various approaches, which would mean a savings of $43 million.

Dr. Dicks said if all four goals were phased in between now and 2020, the DIR could drop to 1.62:1 by 2025. But, taking into account two potential recessions in coming years, a continuing increase in seats, and three more veterinary colleges opening, it's more likely the figure would be reduced to 1.72:1 by 2023. “No matter how hard we try, these four changes won't have the impact desired,” which is a DIR of 1.4:1 by 2025, he said. For that to happen, structural changes would be needed by 2020.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, said the AVMA and AAVMC were positioned to coordinate efforts going forward, in addition to continuing to raise awareness and promote action on strategies through their communication channels.

What the summit's deliverables hinge on now, at least according to Dr. Andrew Maccabe, executive director of the AAVMC, is accountability, transparency, and most important, action.

In fact, one of the commitments made by representatives of the various associations and organizations represented at the summit was “To include student debt as a regular follow-up agenda item at annual events such as the AVMA Economic Summit, AVMA Convention, and AAVMC Conference; the purpose of this would be to monitor progress on efforts to reduce the debt-to-income ratio and to hold each other accountable.”

Condensed from June 15, 2016, JAVMA News

Fighting a market failure

Debt among veterinary college graduates is rising at a faster pace than salaries, and the current 2:1 ratio of educational debt to starting income for new veterinary graduates is unsustainable, according to an AVMA report.

The report, published in April in collaboration with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, suggests that this ratio represents a series of market failures. For example, federal and state governments are paying less for education that provides public goods, such as zoonotic disease control, pushing greater education costs onto students.

“Other factors contributing to increased costs per student include the cost of administration, increasing pension and health care costs, and the increasing state and federal regulations that require reporting for compliance,” the report states.

Remarks near the end of the 76-page report, the 2016 AVMA & AAVMC Report on the Market for Veterinary Education, describe changes that could increase demand for veterinarians' services and reduce education costs. The report sets a goal of eliminating interest on student loans prior to graduation as well as more general goals of finding ways to reduce education costs by 10 percent, increasing starting salaries by 10 percent, and helping veterinary students manage expenses.

Among other proposals, the AVMA and AAVMC report recommends collecting information on loan defaults, which could be used to advocate for lower interest rates for student loans.

Condensed from June 15, 2016, JAVMA News

Army Veterinary Corps marks 100 years of service

On June 3, the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps celebrates its centennial with a ceremony at the Army Medical Department Museum at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where a monument depicting aspects of the corps' history and mission will be unveiled.

The centennial is a benchmark highlighting the diverse services the corps has provided to the nation over the past 100 years, explained Maj. Troy Creason, a veterinarian and assistant to the chief of the Army Veterinary Corps.

“From being the ‘mechanics’ of a horse-powered Army in 1916 to developing tests for detecting botulism in canned foods during the intra–World War years, and current efforts to develop a human vaccine for Ebola, the accomplishments of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps span the spectrum of the veterinary profession,” Dr. Creason said.

The corps' 880 personnel include 600 active-duty Veterinary Corps officers and 280 officers in the Army Reserve. Supporting this small force of veterinary professionals are almost 1,600 enlisted food inspection specialists, 560 animal care technicians, and approximately 425 civilian employees. All told, there are just over 3,400 members that constitute the U.S. Army Veterinary Service.

The Veterinary Corps' mission: to provide highly skilled and adaptive veterinary professionals to protect and improve the health of people and animals while enhancing readiness throughout the Department of Defense.


The U.S. Army Veterinary Corps was made up of “horse mechanics” when America went to war against the German Empire in 1917. In less than two decades, however, horses and mules, once essential for transporting artillery and troops, had been largely replaced by the engine, and the horse mechanics turned their attention to caring for military working dogs. (Courtesy of the Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 77, 7; 10.2460/ajvr.77.7.668

“From host nation capacity-building operations in South America to combat operations in Afghanistan, the Veterinary Corps provides boots-on-the-ground support to a variety of military efforts in the interest of national security,” Dr. Creason said.

Condensed from June 1, 2016, JAVMA News

Report: Heartworm disease decreasing, diabetes increasing

Heartworm infection in dogs decreased between 2006 and 2015, while diabetes mellitus increased in dogs and cats, according to the State of Pet Health 2016 Report from Banfield Pet Hospital.

The sixth annual report, released April 20, draws on data from about 2.5 million dogs and nearly 500,000 cats in more than 900 hospitals across the country.

According to the report, there was a 41.5 percent decrease in cases of heartworm infection in dogs between 2006 and 2015, down to 54.2 cases per 10,000 dogs tested. Between 2013 and 2015, there was a 12 percent increase in the use of heartworm preventives in dogs seen at Banfield hospitals.

There is a distinct geographic pattern for heartworm disease, with the highest prevalence of heartworm infection in 2015 occurring in the Southeastern states and Puerto Rico. This includes Mississippi, 4.1 percent of tested dogs; Louisiana, 3.9 percent; Arkansas, 3.6 percent; and Puerto Rico and Alabama, 1.6 percent each.

Diabetes mellitus in dogs increased by 79.7 percent between 2006 and 2015, to 23.6 cases per 10,000 dogs. Prevalence in cats increased by 18.1 percent over the same time frame, to 67.6 cases per 10,000 cats. There is no clear regional pattern to the highest rates of diabetes in dogs and cats.

Banfield's State of Pet Health 2016 Report also delves into dental disease, otitis externa, and fleas, ticks, and internal parasites. The full report is available at www.stateofpethealth.com.

Condensed from June 15, 2016, JAVMA News

Veterinarian wins Indiana congressional primary

First-time candidate Dr. Angela Demaree won Indiana's 5th Congressional District Democratic Party primary election May 3. She will face Republican incumbent Susan Brooks in a historic matchup this November as two women compete for the congressional seat for the first time.


Dr. Angela Demaree

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 77, 7; 10.2460/ajvr.77.7.668

Dr. Demaree told supporters in Indianapolis after defeating primary challenger Allen Davidson, “We won the primary because we won't accept the status quo, and neither should Indiana.

It's what I'm fighting for, it's what you are fighting for, and it's how we are going to win in November.”

The sixth-generation Hoosier took an early lead in the Democratic Party primary and received 70 percent of the votes.

Three veterinarians currently serve in the House of Representatives: Drs. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ted Yoho of Florida, and Ralph Abraham of Louisiana. Dr. Demaree would be the first female veterinarian elected to Congress, should she win in November.

Dr. Demaree campaigned as a bipartisan problem solver, citing her experience as a veterinarian and an officer in the Army Reserve Veterinary Corps.

A 2002 graduate of Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Demaree practiced companion animal and equine medicine before joining the AVMA staff in 2007 as an associate director of the Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C. She later took a job with the Indiana Horse Racing Commission as equine medical director.

Dr. Demaree was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserve Veterinary Corps in 2009 and was deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She currently is a major in the Army Reserve.

Condensed from June 15, 2016, JAVMA News

Care requirements may increase in organic production

Organic livestock production rules proposed by the Department of Agriculture would increase care requirements, prohibit some amputative procedures, and define many living conditions.

The revised regulations would require that livestock producers administer medication to minimize pain and suffering among sick or injured animals even if the treated animals would lose their “organic” status, and they would allow drug administration to relieve pain and suffering from other sources, such as cattle dehorning. Current regulations prohibit administration of medications, other than vaccines, in the absence of illness.

The regulations also would establish that animals need to receive sufficient feed, demonstrated by acceptable body condition.

They also would set minimum living space requirements under organic production and clarify that requirements for access to outdoor space can be met only by areas with soil and without roofs or walls, excluding “porches” that have proliferated in agriculture. Young cattle and most swine would need to live in group housing.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published the proposals April 13.

The proposals include clarification on which physical alterations can be performed on livestock in organic production as well as which alterations would be prohibited as routine procedures but allowed as needed.

The full text is available at http://jav.ma/AMSorganic.

Condensed from June 1, 2016, JAVMA News

Bradley wins board race

Dr. Karen Bradley (Georgia '96) of Vermont will represent New England and New York veterinarians on the AVMA Board of Directors starting in August.

She is a co-owner of Onion River Animal Hospital in Vermont and a former member of the AVMA House of Delegates. She ran against Dr. Arnold Goldman (Florida '86), who owns Canton Animal Hospital in Connecticut and is his state's alternate delegate to the AVMA.

Dr. Bradley will replace Dr. John de Jong, the board chair, as the District I representative for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.


Dr. Karen Bradley

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 77, 7; 10.2460/ajvr.77.7.668

She said in an interview that the AVMA is acting in new and exciting directions, with more strategic focus on members in its work. She wants being an AVMA member to become more meaningful.

Dr. Bradley also thinks most members lack passion about the Association, and she wants them to care more about AVMA activities.

Dr. Bradley is a co-founder of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, a former executive board member for the Vermont VMA, and a chair of committees for the AVMA and Vermont VMA. She also has volunteered in schools and an animal shelter in Vermont.

Condensed from June 1, 2016, JAVMA News

AVMA funding economic research, graduate program

The AVMA will fund surveys, a graduate veterinary economics program, and creation of a system to analyze government actions and predict conditions in veterinary markets.

The Association plans to spend about $1.3 million in research through 2017 as well as $200,000 each year starting this fall—continuing indefinitely—to sponsor the master's degree program.

In a meeting April 8, the AVMA Board of Directors approved most of those research expenses and the first year of the graduate program, while $120,000 of the research money had been approved and allocated in 2015 but not yet spent.

Most of the research money—$765,000—is dedicated toward work on the AVMA's pet demographic survey and a new series of annual surveys on demand for veterinary services in metropolitan markets. A contractor, the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, will conduct the surveys along with Iowa State University and veterinary product manufacturers, according to a proposal provided to Board members and information from the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division.

The information provided to Board members indicates the AVMA may spend less on the surveys than the budgeted amount, as veterinary product manufacturers also may contribute.


The AVMA Board of Directors voted in favor of economic research programs and a graduate veterinary economics program. Board chair Dr. John de Jong is shown in the center beside treasurer Dr. Barbara Schmidt, along with Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, and Dr. Elizabeth Curry-Galvin, then assistant executive vice president.

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 77, 7; 10.2460/ajvr.77.7.668

Condensed from June 1, 2016, JAVMA News

AVMA advocates against prescription mandate bill

AVMA Board of Directors Chair John de Jong in April told a House subcommittee that requiring veterinarians to provide portable prescriptions for all prescribed pet medications, regardless of whether clients request them, is unnecessary and unduly burdensome on veterinarians and small businesses.

The April 29 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee addressed the pet medication industry, including the Fairness to Pet Owners Act (HR 3174/S 1200), legislation that would federally mandate prescription writing for veterinarians. The subcommittee is currently reviewing the House bill that is intended to address a purported lack of competition in the pet medication industry.

Dr. de Jong explained that, though prescription writing is not required by federal law, the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics and its policy on “Client Requests for Prescriptions” direct veterinarians to write a prescription in lieu of dispensing a medication when desired by a client. Moreover, 36 states already have laws, regulations, or policies requiring veterinarians to provide clients with a written prescription on request, he said.


AVMA Board of Directors Chair John de Jong testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee.

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 77, 7; 10.2460/ajvr.77.7.668

“Veterinarians understand that their clients must make financial decisions when planning and paying for services and medications, which is exactly why we support policies that give our clients the flexibility to choose where they fill their prescriptions,” Dr. de Jong said.

To learn more about why the AVMA opposes the legislation, visit www.avma.org and click on “Prescription Mandates” in the Advocacy section.

Condensed from June 15, 2016, JAVMA News

Education council schedules site visits

The AVMA Council on Education has scheduled site visits to four schools and colleges of veterinary medicine for the remainder of 2016.

Comprehensive site visits are planned for the Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in Western Australia, July 10–15, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Dec. 4–8. Consultative site visits are scheduled for the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences in the U.K., Oct. 16–20, and the University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine in the U.K., Nov. 6–10.

The council welcomes written comments on these plans or the programs to be evaluated. Comments should be addressed to Dr. Karen Martens Brandt, Director, Education and Research Division, AVMA, 1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Comments must be signed by the person submitting them to be considered.

From July 1, 2016, JAVMA News

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