The need for a food supply–exclusive college of veterinary medicine

Michael Karg Frederick Cat Vet, 9539 Liberty Rd, Frederick, MD 21701.

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The pressing need for more new graduates who will enter FSVM has been made abundantly clear during the past few years. Food supply veterinarians occupy a greater role than ever in the veterinary profession, and there is a critical shortage of qualified individuals. Many potential solutions have been proposed, and there is a long list of worthy strategies.1–3 However, there is a solution that has not received much attention. I believe the time has come to establish a new veterinary medical institution in the United States with the express purpose of graduating veterinarians for careers in FSVM.

The current system in the United States provides all veterinary students with exposure to FSVM. In theory, each graduate has received an education that would enable him or her to pursue a career in this arena. The authors in another report4 echoed the common sentiment that veterinary education is not doing an adequate job of training for societal needs as it relates to FSVM and proposed a number of reasons that FSVM often has second-class status in veterinary colleges. A system is needed that prioritizes FSVM and trains students to fill the shortage. Veterinary students interested in FSVM careers need to achieve the full depth of experience to immediately seize the reins of a challenging career after graduation. The requirements of companion animal medicine represent an unnecessary burden and hindrance to the goals of those students. The generalized veterinary curriculum is inhibiting the schools from producing a sufficient number of veterinarians to occupy the essential roles in the worldwide food animal supply chain.

Who Are the Students?

The surest way to guarantee an adequate supply of veterinarians for FSVM roles is to specifically train them for this purpose. Veterinary students at an FSVM-dedicated institution would come from three groups. The first group would be veterinary students who plan for a career in FSVM and who do not have a strong interest in companion animal medicine. The second group would be veterinary students who enter a traditional veterinary school with the intent of pursuing a career in FSVM but who change their minds during veterinary school or after graduation. If these students were not exposed to companion animal medicine during veterinary school or did not have that option available to them, they would be unable to alter their career focus. The third group would comprise veterinary students who would otherwise not be accepted at traditional veterinary schools; however, they will be enrolled because there will be additional positions available through this new FSVM veterinary medical school. The rigorous admissions process is currently turning away large numbers of worthy applicants because of the limited number of positions.

During the development of the Veterinary Medical Education Act of 2005,5 it was revealed that the current number of veterinary students is lagging behind population growth and that the equivalent of nine new veterinary colleges would be needed by 2050 to make up for this shortfall. Instead of continuing to inflate class size and decrease the instructor-to-student ratio, I believe that now is the perfect time to provide students with new specialized veterinary medical schools.

Refining the Veterinary Curriculum

Critics of complete tracking voice the concern that this restriction limits the options of veterinarians who have received no training and have no experience in other species or sectors of the profession. In my opinion, setting up a fail-safe to protect against changing market conditions and potential injuries is not a good reason for educating veterinary students in all species and practice paradigms. An injury that forces a veterinarian out of clinical practice should result in moving that person into a parallel field in academia, government practice, or corporate practice in writing, speaking, or research, rather than a less logical change in species emphasis in clinical practice. A veterinary medical education that provides greater, more specialized depth allows veterinarians to use their existing knowledge to make a smoother, more rapid transition in response to a changing labor market. I believe that adequately prepared preveterinary students have the maturity and experience to make focused career decisions.

Calls are regularly voiced that material should be added to the already overwhelming veterinary curriculum to reflect the rapid progress and changes in the demands for food supply veterinarians. Epidemiology, public health, food safety, economics, research training, and animal welfare are all essential subjects for food supply veterinarians, but they are not always prioritized in veterinary medical education. Within an institution dedicated to FSVM, these disciplines could become the core curriculum. Coupled with basic sciences and diagnostic production medicine, these efforts would yield a truly well-rounded veterinary education. The lack of lectures on small animal medicine would be a shortcoming to the same degree as the exclusion of lectures on human medicine.

A collection of like-minded veterinary students who would otherwise comprise a small minority at traditional veterinary schools would naturally result in a more collaborative educational atmosphere. A unified vision and focus for an institution should also build a more cohesive relationship between lectures, teaching laboratories, and clinical settings. Some creativity will be needed to provide a varied experience in ambulatory care and the veterinary medical teaching hospital with public health training that is lacking in most veterinary medical education settings.

It is important, however, that collaborative efforts between companion and production veterinary medicine, most notably through biopathology, remain strong. The relationship between veterinary medicine and the study of diseases in humans must be strengthened to maintain and increase the relevance of veterinarians in society. Currently, clinical settings for small animal and FSVM are typically physically separated, so complete delineation of the two disciplines would not be a radical departure. I believe it is worth exploring a triad of human, small animal, and FSVM teaching hospitals in close proximity with common ancillary services for comparative educational and research purposes.

A Change in Licensure

Creation of a separate veterinary school dedicated to FSVM would also require the practical step of revision to the national and state veterinary board licensing requirements and, in so doing, the creation of designated or limited licensure.6–9 Complete tracking can only take place after amending the nature of the veterinary medical degree. Creation of a DVM-Food Supply (or VMD-Food Supply) degree would require that students take a new, national examination instead of the NAVLE. In its current form, the NAVLE does not adequately test for knowledge gained in FSVM in a broad-based veterinary medical education. A more focused examination should be able to expand on the narrow NAVLE food animal section to better evaluate graduates who have been educated for four years in a specific FSVM veterinary education.

The practical implications for changes in licensure are mostly limited to regulations, protocol, and the various initials listed after the names of veterinarians. In reality, the revolution has already begun with regard to how veterinarians select their careers. In the AVMA survey of 2006 veterinary school graduates,10 it was reported that only 8.7% of those new veterinarians were employed at a mixed animal practice. All veterinarians are licensed to practice with all species, but most restrict themselves to a much narrower group or single species. Restructuring of licensure would acknowledge the current situation and provide more relevance to licensing examinations.

The Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition commissioned studies to evaluate variables that contribute to a shortage of veterinarians who specialize in food animal medicine.3 The analysis yielded recommendations to spark interest in FSVM in prospective students through the support and encouragement of mentors, veterinary medical schools, veterinary associations, government, and industry. It is my belief that without a separate FSVM educational institution, alleviation of this shortage will not proceed at an acceptable pace.

A new veterinary medical school dedicated solely to FSVM would be able to serve as a model for the basis of other limited veterinary educational systems. We have long since ceased to expect every graduate veterinarian to meet all societal demands. The time has come to accept that not every veterinary medical institution has the same strengths for each of the various educational tracks. Limited resources dictate that not every discipline can be funded to achieve ideal educational frameworks for veterinary students. A greater number of smaller, more nimble institutions could provide a stronger, more flexible collective that will be able to adapt to the needs of tomorrow.

ABBREVIATIONS

FSVM

Food supply veterinary medicine

NAVLE

North American Veterinary Licensing Examination

References

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    Tyler JW, Larson RL. Assessing veterinary medical education with regard to the attraction, admission, and education of students interested in food supply veterinary medicine and retention of student interest in a career in the food supply sector. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:922927.

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