JAVMA News Digest

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ER docs shortage turns critical


Dr. Maureen Luschini (Courtesy of Dr. Maureen Luschini)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

Dr. Maureen Luschini said the job market for criticalists was different when she finished her residency in 2010.

“It used to be easy to put an ad out and get multiple applicants for one position,” she said. “But now, I could easily have a position posted for months and not get one person interested.”

Her hospital currently has eight emergency veterinarians. But she wants to decrease shift lengths and increase overlap among her doctors. So she is looking for at least two more, maybe four.

Dr. Luschini is the owner and medical director of the Veterinary Medical Center of Central New York in East Syracuse, New York. She's leading a task force to address a national shortage of emergency room veterinarians and veterinary technicians. The task force was created by the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society and American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care and is trying to quantify the severity of the problem and find ways to encourage more veterinarians to start or keep working in emergency rooms.

The shortage appears to be related to high overall demand for veterinarians, as companies and universities also have described difficult searches for specialists (see JAVMA, Oct. 15, 2018, page 964).

Dr. Gary L. Stamp, executive director of the VECCS, said U.S. veterinary hospitals are short of emergency veterinarians both with and without board certification as criticalists.

ER medicine is intimidating, Dr. Stamp said, and inexperienced veterinarians avoid it because of the risk they could be responsible for poor outcomes.

The veterinarians who take on emergency medicine also have higher burnout rates because of the hours, effects on personal lives, and challenging work, Dr. Stamp said. Meanwhile, large specialty practices and practice chains are trying to expand their emergency services.

In mid-January, the VECCS's Career Center had almost 300 job listings for veterinarians. Beyond detailing professional offices and benefits, the ads entice applicants with city nightlife, backwoods adventures, white sand beaches, friendly people, time off to enjoy those perks, and, often, signing bonuses.

Brian Mason is an emergency medicine recruiter for Blackwellking, which he said recruits for about 20 percent of U.S. veterinary hospitals and clinics. In December, the company had 165 listings for emergency veterinarian openings, including five jobs open at one hospital, he said.

From 2016 through 2018, managers at hundreds of hospitals told Mason they were unable to fill half their open jobs in emergency rooms, some for more than a year, he said. Blackwellking's data back up those conversations: only 175 of the 353 emergency veterinarian openings listed in that time were filled, he said.

Mason said those figures may underestimate demand because the company stops taking additional listings once it has a full workload.

Some hospitals are signing job contracts with second-year residents, who will be unable to start work for 18 months, he said.

AVMA economists reported in October 2018 that about 1.6 percent of veterinarians surveyed were seeking work (see JAVMA, Dec. 15, 2018, page 1503). If those results remained accurate through the end of the year, when the AVMA estimated the U.S. had about 113,000 veterinarians, that would indicate 1,800 veterinarians were out of work.

In January, the AVMA Veterinary Career Center alone listed about 2,200 jobs for veterinarians, including hundreds for emergency veterinarians.

Condensed from March 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Federal veterinarians reflect on career choice following government shutdown

Approximately 1,300 federally employed veterinarians were affected by the recent government shutdown—the longest in U.S. history and a consequence of a disagreement between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Dr. Barbara Porter-Spalding has worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 1994 and is currently a staff officer with Veterinary Services' National Preparedness and Incident Coordination. This was Dr. Porter's third government shutdown.

“In the past, it seemed like the administration was trying to make the shutdown as painful for the public as possible,” Dr. Porter recalled. “This time, I think a lot of agencies and departments were directed to try to make it as painless as possible. That allowed it to be drawn out a lot longer than is comfortable for most federal employees.”

The National Association of Federal Veterinarians was in contact with its members during the shutdown, collecting anecdotes about how they were handling the situation, which were provided to JAVMA News by Dr. Porter, the current NAFV president.

Many expressed sentiments similar to this veterinary medical officer: “Unfortunately, my skills feel much less marketable as I have trained significantly to be in public service to help at a larger scale. The government was supposed to be a secure place to work with great benefits and now I feel trapped.”

Dr. Megan Sission, a veterinary scientist in the diagnostic virology laboratory at the USDA's Center for Veterinary Biologics in Ames, Iowa, told JAVMA News that the furlough “was not a vacation. We are not all so privileged that we don't notice two or more missing paychecks. Furloughs are not normal and should not be expected.”


(Illustration by Vance Lump)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

Condensed from March 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Veterinary leaders concentrate on technician utilization

Veterinary technicians across the U.S. have spoken, and the AVMA has heard them.

The AVMA House of Delegates approved a recommendation that the AVMA Board of Directors consider convening a working group to design a plan to improve veterinary technician utilization and report back to the HOD within one year. The HOD took the action during its regular winter session, Jan. 11–12, held in conjunction with the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

The issue of underutilization was the main topic during the HOD's Veterinary Information Forum and sparked discussion on how to encourage the consistent use of credentialed veterinary technicians as part of a health care team, the lack of recognition for technicians, the differences between employees trained on the job and credentialed technicians, and the high turnover rates, low job satisfaction, and low wages for technicians.

Dr. Rebecca Stinson-Dixon, the American Association of Equine Practitioners alternate delegate, suggested the working group during a reference committee session. She said: “A working group can call on a lot more resources, and we can reach out to veterinary technician groups, education leadership, and veterinary practitioners (to discuss underutilization). Those groups aren't necessarily invited (in HOD sessions). In our role, that would allow (the AVMA) to get a better handle on the places we can have an influence.”

The recommendation was sent to the Board, and it will be at the Board's discretion whether the working group is formed.


Erin Spencer, newly elected president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, speaks to the AVMA House of Delegates during its regular winter session, Jan. 11–12. (Photo by Sara Beugen/Shoot My Events)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

Condensed from March 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Kill the veterinary practice to save it

The exponential growth of technology and changing consumer demand are driving a paradigm shift in the way workplaces are run.

Or, as Elise Lacher described in one of the workshops held during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 10–13 in Chicago, “Shift happens.”

“However, most veterinary practices still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age. It's time to call into question some of the long-accepted workplace best practices that no longer serve us,” she said.

The challenge is that innovation isn't easy. You can't maintain the status quo and innovate at the same time, said Dr. Sarah J. Wooten, who gave the presentation “Kill the Practice.” Innovation can be difficult in an industry as heavily regulated as veterinary medicine, she added. Further barriers holding back innovation include professional skepticism, complacency, conformity, and excessive processes and bureaucracy.

But that can't stop people from considering what they can do to help their practice help more animals and improve efficiency, customer service, client compliance, profitability, and staff morale, she said.

Dr. Wooten had attendees thinking about the following as if they were their own competitor:

  • • What would you do to put your practice out of business?

  • • Where are the biggest threats? Which ones surprised you?

  • • Now that you know what the competition could do to you, how do you stop them?

“Sometimes you have to destroy your business in order to save it,” she said.

Condensed from March 1, 2019, JAVMA News

House of Delegates approves dues increase

The AVMA will increase member dues to allow the Association to continue offering services as costs rise, while avoiding drawing down its reserves.

The AVMA House of Delegates, during its regular winter session, Jan. 11–12 in Chicago, approved a $30 dues increase for 2020 and up to a $10 dues increase for 2021 and 2022. Currently, dues are $330 annually for regular members.

Dr. Arnold L. Goldman, AVMA treasurer, provided delegates with an update on the AVMA budget. From 2015–17, revenues exceeded expenses, but the Association was projecting a negative net income for 2018. The Association draws on its reserves to fund new endeavors, but those programs are then added to the yearly operational budget.

If dues remain unchanged, the AVMA would have an increasingly negative bottom line. Cost-saving measures, including program cuts, would be necessary to achieve a balanced budget, and the AVMA would have to tap into the reserves to fund operations.

“2020 represents a period of five years since last asking our members to invest more in their national professional association,” Dr. Goldman said. “We are confident that the value of AVMA membership is and will continue to be esteemed by our members.”

The AVMA is working on developing more nondues revenue, Dr. Goldman said. About 70 percent of income comes from member dues.

Condensed from March 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Efforts evolve on how to address educational debt

The Veterinary Debt Initiative is an outgrowth of the Fix the Debt summit, held in the spring of 2016 at Michigan State University, and is intended to tackle the issue of educational debt. The VDI has since evolved into an effort among the AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Veterinary Medical Association Executives.

The VDI's focus, as of late, has been on developing resources to help veterinary students and veterinarians navigate “critical junctures” in their financial pathway that have an outsize influence in determining whether they flourish financially.

The VMAE website covers financial literacy and helping practitioners improve their practice management, for example. The AVMA's My Veterinary Life website is dedicated to providing information and resources on personal well-being, financial literacy, and career success, and the site features tools developed by the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division. And the AAVMC hosts the VDI website which provides “new and noteworthy” best practices and examples from veterinary colleges and elsewhere to inspire others or encourage them to get involved.

An often-suggested solution to helping students deal with their educational debt is to increase financial education. But Dr. Andrew Maccabe, AAVMC CEO, cited studies suggesting that providing general financial education will increase financial literacy but that general education will not substantively change behavior. Instead, it is more effective to provide financial education that is time-limited, deadline-oriented, and focused on a specific activity, such as buying a practice or taking out loans.

“This is where we need to shift our focus. We've got to be more targeted and smarter about the way we provide financial literacy education,” he said.


Bridgette Bain, PhD, associate director of analytics with the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, presented information on educational debt at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 10–13 in Chicago. (Photo by Sara Beugen/Shoot My Events)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

Condensed from March 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Multicultural VMA to launch, seeks to promote diversity

Dr. Marie Sato Quicksall remembers when she was young, she and her brother would get excited if they saw an Asian person on TV, much less a mixed-race individual.

“We didn't feel like we had a lot of representation, but we felt like we had a lot of support otherwise,” she said.

Today, she still feels that way as a veterinarian. When the conversation turns to diversity, she said, it tends to expand to all types, often to the exclusion of racial and ethnic diversity.

“Sometimes it's an issue people don't recognize that is there, so it's hard to have a conversation on how to address the issue if people aren't aware it even exists,” said Dr. Quicksall, an associate veterinarian at Day Road Animal Hospital outside of Seattle. She gave examples such as minority veterinarians often feeling isolated because no one else looks like them on staff or how it's not uncommon for them to be asked multiple times by clients “Where's the doctor?” when they walk in the room.


Dr. Marie Sato Quicksall (center), associate veterinarian at Day Road Animal Hospital outside of Seattle, is a founding member of the Multicultural VMA, which hopes to obtain 501(c)3 status sometime this year. (Photo by Sara Beugen/Shoot My Events)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

That's why a group of veterinarians is working to form the Multicultural VMA, with a mission to foster diversity and create a network of professional support for its members.

“We hope our organization can improve well-being and fulfillment for multicultural people in the field, improve cultural competency and communication for all in the field, and help our profession reflect and serve our entire multicultural society,” said Dr. Quicksall, a founding member of the Multicultural VMA.

Condensed from March 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Virginia Tech moves interim provost into permanent position

Dr. Cyril R. Clarke, interim executive vice president and provost of Virginia Tech since November 2017, is now permanently in the position as of Jan. 1, following an international search.

Dr. Clarke earned his veterinary degree in 1981 from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He earned a doctorate in veterinary pharmacology from Louisiana State University and a master's in higher education from Oklahoma State University.

Dr. Clarke is also the former dean of Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. During his time there, he launched a bachelor's degree in public health, a big part of the veterinary college's one-health initiative.


Dr. Cyril R. Clarke

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

“I am honored to have Cyril join us as the EVP and provost at such a pivotal time in our history,” said Tim Sands, PhD, Virginia Tech president, in a press release.

“It is leadership like Cyril's that will allow us to achieve our highest aspirations.”

Dr. Clarke has worked to engage the campus and advance the university's vision during his time as interim provost. He will continue that work as well as focus on listening to the campus community and leveraging ideas and expertise to build strategic areas of excellence, according to the press release.

Dr. Clarke has previously been involved with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology. He is a past member of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board and the AVMA Council on Education.

Condensed from March 15, 2019, JAVMA News

Six southeast veterinary colleges band together

A group of veterinary colleges, spearheaded by the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, has launched a consortium to collaborate, develop, and share best practices for veterinary education.


Participants in the Master Teacher Program at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine point to the program as particularly useful in improving their teaching methods, materials, and communication. (Courtesy of UT CVM)

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 80, 4; 10.2460/ajvr.80.4.316

The Southeast Veterinary Educational Consortium is in its beginning stages, but the veterinary colleges are eager to work together and share resources to improve the learning process, said Dr. Juan Samper, associate dean for academic and student affairs at the UF veterinary college.

“As veterinarians, we are almost never or seldom taught how to teach, and it's something we only learn from feedback or trying to emulate some of the great teachers we had,” Dr. Samper said. “The profession is changing, and newer generations not only need but want to have a different way to learn. Memory is not a great way to deliver content. We cannot use the student's brain as a hard drive. We want to make sure they use it as a processing center.”

SEVEC comprises, along with the UF veterinary college, the following schools: North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Each school contributed $10,000 in seed funding to the project and will continue to do so on a yearly basis. The group is currently looking for additional funding for larger projects.

Condensed from March 1, 2019, JAVMA News

Education council schedules site visits

The AVMA Council on Education has scheduled site visits to 10 schools and colleges of veterinary medicine for the remainder of 2019.

Comprehensive site visits are planned for the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, April 7–12; University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, May 12–16; University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science, May 19–24; Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Oct. 13–17; Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Nov. 3–7; Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Nov. 17–21; and University of Montreal Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Dec. 8–12.

Consultative site visits are planned for the Texas Tech University College of Veterinary Medicine, April 14–18; University of Liverpool Institute of Veterinary Science, Sept. 29–Oct. 3; and University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Science, Dec. 1–5.

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 April 1, 2019, JAVMA News

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