Letters to the Editor

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Constraints on nonclinical career options

I read with some consternation the recent JAVMA News story on efforts to help veterinarians with career transitions,1 as I believe it provides readers with an overly optimistic view of nonclinical career options.

While it is technically true that the 45 entities listed in the graphic accompanying the story are “career options,” the vast majority of these options will be eliminated for transitioning veterinarians on the basis of inherent limitations in geographic location of associated jobs, advanced degree requirements, age limitations, experience requirements, level of financial compensation, or number of positions available.

An accompanying story2 describes the career path of an individual who pursued master's and doctoral degrees in public health immediately after graduating from veterinary school. However, the thrust of the main article was career transitions for veterinarians in clinical practice, many of whom have been out of school for years. Going back to pursue a doctoral degree is likely not an option for most of these individuals, and even if pursuing a master's of public health degree were feasible, many state and local health departments—the most obvious employers for individuals with a master's of public health degree—have been laying personnel off rather than hiring. From 2008 through 2013, for example, 51,000 jobs were lost by state and local health departments.3 Veterinarians may belong in public health, but decreases in federal, state, and local funding have devastated this field, and it will be years before hiring rebounds.

Many students visited me during the years I worked on Capitol Hill. A concerning trend I saw as the years went by was that more of these students were entering veterinary school not to facilitate a career in clinical medicine or a closely related field such as veterinary research or epidemiology, but to go straight into an alternative career. I submit that this represents a large financial risk and that a clinical degree is perhaps not the best preparation for someone who wants to be a lobbyist or foreign aid worker.

Veterinarians are capable of contributing to many nonclinical positions, but stigmas exist, and when applying for “non-veterinarian” jobs, veterinarians typically face stiff competition from more traditional candidates who fit a human resource manager's more obvious ideal. A 2013 study4 commissioned by the AVMA estimated that demand for veterinarians would grow by 11% to 12% from 2012 to 2025 but that this would be driven primarily by growth in small animal practice, with minimal growth in other sectors.

The Virginia-Maryland Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine is a unique and marvelous resource for veterinary students and veterinarians interested in nonclinical careers. Veterinary students and veterinarians looking for alternatives to clinical practice could benefit from this kind of mentorship, which may be lacking in their own schools and communities. Perhaps the AVMA's career transition toolkit is a step in this direction. However, JAVMA and the profession's leaders must be extremely clear about the ease with which veterinarians looking to transition to nontraditional careers will find jobs where they live and qualify for them with the degree they have, and should be realistic about the number of such jobs actually awaiting fulfillment.

Ellen P. Carlin, dvm

Carlin Communications New York, NY

  • 1. Burns K. Taking the leap: AVMA, Virginia-Maryland center among groups helping veterinarians with career transitions. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015; 247: 1014.

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  • 2. The sphere of public health. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015; 247: 15.

  • 3. Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Budget cuts continue to affect the health of Americans. September 2014 update. Available at: www.astho.org/budget-cuts-Sept-2014/. Accessed Jul 8, 2015.

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  • 4. Dall TM, Storm MV, Gallo P, et al. 2013 US veterinary workforce study: modeling capacity utilization. Schaumburg, Ill: AVMA, 2013.

The root of cattle fatigue

I read the recent report of a novel fatigue syndrome in finished feedlot cattle1 with interest, as I have been following the issue of lameness and sloughing of the hoof walls in cattle—at least some of which having been fed zilpaterol hydrochloride—with a mixture of curiosity and exasperation. The exasperation arises from the fact that, to my knowledge, no one has come forward with a reasonable diagnosis of the underlying cause, despite the fact that this appears to represent a serious animal welfare issue.

It is my belief that the most reasonable explanation for this fatigued cattle syndrome is carbohydrate-induced laminitis followed by transport, with the cattle forced to stand for hours on end on a hard surface. The authors of the present report1 dismiss the diagnosis of carbohydrate-induced laminitis on the basis of histologic findings. However, cattle with laminitis typically spend much of their time lying down, and I suspect it is the transport of cattle with laminitis that is leading to the sloughing of the hoof walls.

I am puzzled as to why β-adrenergic receptor agonists have been singled out as a possible cause of this syndrome. Laminitis is rare in cattle outside of modern feeder operations but occurs more frequently in feedlots today. Cattle with laminitis are not fit for transport, and the veterinary profession should dispense with terms such as fatigued cattle syndrome and focus on the underlying cause.

Kenn Wood, dvm

Whitesand Veterinary Ebenezer, SK, Canada

1. Thomson DU, Loneragan GH, Henningson JN, et al. Description of a novel fatigue syndrome of finished feedlot cattle following transportation. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015; 247: 6672.

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Financial return on veterinary degrees, then versus now

Gary D. Norsworthy, dvm

Alamo Feline Health Center San Antonio, Tex

The recent study1 on financial expectations of first-year veterinary students was interesting, but left me with some concerns and questions about the future of the veterinary profession.

I received my veterinary degree from Texas A&M University in 1972 and have been in private small animal or feline practice since. My expectations and, to the best of my knowledge, my classmates’ expectations regarding the financial return on a veterinary degree were far higher than the expectations of the first-year veterinary students included in this study. We had high expectations of professional satisfaction and financial return, and the vast majority of us have not been disappointed. I have to wonder, however, how many of my classmates would have gone to veterinary school if their expectations had been no higher than those of these current students. I also have to wonder what impact these low financial expectations might have had on the applicant pool.

In reading the study, I wondered what basis respondents used when estimating their incomes 10 years after graduation, as this might have affected the validity of their answers. I also wondered whether respondents assumed that they would be working full-time the entire 10 years. That was certainly the case for me and my classmates, but new graduates who have worked for me often have taken substantial time off from full-time practice for family or personal reasons.

1. Lim CC, Schulhofer-Wohl S, Root Kustritz MV, et al. Financial expectations of first-year veterinary students. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015; 247: 196203.

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