The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians’ Wild Animal Health Fund, for the 2020-21 fiscal year, is awarding $140,000 worth of grants to 11 institutions. This year, the organization has increased the cap per grant to $15,000 as well as the time allotted to complete studies to 18 months. The studies receiving grants are as follows:
“The pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of ponazuril in the treatment of systemic isosporosis in passerine birds.”
“Pharmacokinetics of metronidazole in green, loggerhead, and Kemp's ridley sea turtles after single oral and intravenous doses.”
“Detection of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus in African elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa.”
“Multi-pathogens, disease, and mortality in free-living eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina).”
“Contrast-enhanced ultrasound for the assessment of renal perfusion and renal disease in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus).”
“Pharmacokinetics of famciclovir and its metabolite penciclovir in African elephants (Loxodonta africana).”
“Contaminants and industrial disturbance to migrating whooping cranes.”
“Characterizing the microbiota of lorikeet enteritis.”
“Investigating biochemical and cytological coelomic fluid responses to anticipated climate change-associated stressors in the ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus).”
“Identifying biomarkers for Mycobacterium bovis infection in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and leopards (Panthera pardus).”
“Understanding adrenal function as possible etiology for red panda acute mortality syndrome.”
AVMA ANNOUNCES MEMBERS’ ANNUAL MEETING
The 2021 annual meeting of AVMA voting members will be held virtually at 11 a.m. CST on Jan. 8. As determined by the AVMA Board of Directors, the meeting will be held in conjunction with the regular winter session of the AVMA House of Delegates, during the plenary session of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference.
The meeting will include reports from the treasurer and AVMA staff, a message from the president, speeches by candidates for president-elect, and other information as determined by the House Advisory Committee.
FDA APPROVES DRUG FOR WEIGHT LOSS IN CATS WITH CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE
The Food and Drug Administration has approved Elura, or capromorelin oral solution, the second drug approved for management of weight loss in cats and the first drug approved specifically for the management of weight loss in cats with chronic kidney disease.
Cats with chronic kidney disease may begin to lose weight prior to diagnosis and typically continue to lose weight as the disease progresses. This weight loss can worsen a cat's prognosis and shorten its lifespan.
Capromorelin is a ghrelin receptor agonist known to increase appetite and weight gain and is approved as Entyce for appetite stimulation in dogs. Elanco, manufacturer of Entyce and Elura, submitted studies documenting the effectiveness of capromorelin in cats with weight loss and chronic kidney disease and the safety of capromorelin in healthy cats. The most common adverse reactions observed in both studies were vomiting and hypersalivation, which were both seen more frequently in male cats.
Elura is supplied in 15-mL bottles with an oral dosing syringe.
Volume of studies rises following pause early in pandemic
By Greg Cima
Chris Cramer, PhD, said in early November the University of Minnesota had reached about 80% of its research output prior to the pandemic.
Dr. Cramer is vice president for research and leader of a research group in the Department of Chemistry. He said the university is keeping lower numbers of people in laboratories and other research sites as well as restricting work involving human participants in uncontrolled environments, such as grade schools.
“Otherwise, we've been pretty successful in bringing back most of the stuff that would require someone to come to campus, go to a field site, whatever it might be,” he said.
Early this year, university research leaders described how their institutions delayed the start of new research, reduced staffing in research facilities, and added safety measures to ongoing studies.
By late spring, universities were publishing and implementing phased plans for resuming research, each with their own plans on how to protect investigators, participants, and the public.
Texas A&M University's Division of Research, for example, published in June plans for how investigators could resume research involving human participants and other clinical studies, as well as published overall research plans including an update as the fall semester began.
Johns Hopkins University officials published their JHU Return to Research Guidance on June 12, with limits on the time and activities allowed on campus, reduced capacity in laboratories, and added responsibilities for reducing transmission risks. The guidance states that some projects may proceed at a slower pace, and some studies may be lower priorities.
Isaac Pessah, PhD, associate dean and professor of molecular biosciences at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said the university had been ramping up research after a substantial reduction early in the pandemic. The university maintained studies deemed essential, continued breeding irreplaceable animal lines, and maintained other animal populations while pausing new studies unrelated to COVID-19.
Starting June 1, UC-Davis officials allowed up to 33% of research personnel on-site for time-sensitive studies, with distancing and personal protective equipment requirements. Starting Oct. 30, the allowances expanded to all studies that need on-site access.
The next phase, whenever that may come, would allow two-thirds of research personnel on-site, resumption of field research, and expansion of all research activities.
Dr. Douglas K. Taylor is senior veterinarian in the Emory University School of Medicine Division of Animal Resources and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine. He said in late October that Emory's research-use mouse population—the bulk of the institution's research animal population—was down about 15% from early March, when it was at an all-time high. The volume of research at the institution also was down about 15%.
“We are certainly not back where we were in the beginning of the year,” he said.
Dr. Joyce Cohen, associate director of animal resources at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and associate professor in the Emory University School of Medicine Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said the primate research facility, in contrast, remained “insanely busy.”
“We never really slowed down much during COVID,” she said. “We stopped doing new projects, but we didn't stop any ongoing projects with nonhuman primates.”
SHORTAGES, PRECAUTIONS LIMIT STUDIES
Dr. Cohen said that, as the pause on new projects ended, more investigators started studies amid a torrent of ongoing research. The primate research center closed the fiscal year with more than $88 million in grant income, a record high.
“We're having problems because of monkey shortages,” she said.
In a typical year, Yerkes officials would be able to supplement their rhesus macaque population by buying more. But pharmaceutical companies are competing for all domestic sources of rhesus macaques because importation channels closed during the pandemic.
The Atlantic reported Aug. 31 that China provided 60% of the 35,000 monkeys imported to the U.S. in 2019 but halted those exports early this year.
Dr. Cohen said the center expanded its breeding colony, but each macaque can give birth only each spring, following a six-month gestation period. They become viable for research at 3 years old and optimal for studies at 5.
Dr. Taylor said the physical distancing rules at Emory—and most research institutions he knows of—limit the number of researchers in a procedure room. Dr. Cohen said all of Yerkes’ animal resource staff had returned with staggered shifts, and researchers have adjusted with unusual schedules to reduce laboratory occupancy.
“We still have constraints with PPE,” she said. “It's still challenging. We've been OK. We've been able to get things, but it's never a guarantee that we'll have enough face shields or enough masks.”
Dr. Cramer said the pandemic also continues to hinder research among people whose work depends on travel, such as investigators in the humanities, social sciences, and geology. The university removed a previous restriction on domestic travel but continues to restrict international travel.
Veterinary researchers, in particular, struggled this year with deciding how to continue clinical trials involving pets and how they should protect pet owners, Dr. Cramer said. A Missouri resident might own a dog with cancer and travel to Minnesota to participate in a clinical trial, he said.
“Should we have them do that, given the challenges associated with it for the individual?” he said. “And then, of course, how do you protect your staff and people in the veterinary clinic?”
By early November, the volume of clinical trials in the veterinary clinic almost met the volume from before the pandemic, in part because travel is less uncertain, Dr. Cramer said.
In the spring, researchers and spokespeople at several universities indicated in interviews with JAVMA News they had reduced breeding of research animals, and a few depopulated mice in efforts to reduce the risks to human health. One institution sent livestock used in teaching laboratories to market earlier than planned.
Some news reports published at that time gave the impression research institutions were implementing widespread euthanasia of research rodents. Dr. Cohen said that, while some institutions euthanized research animals early in the pandemic, she thinks that was rare and institutions more often paused rodent breeding during the uncertain early months.
INSTITUTIONS GIVE AID, ADAPT TRAINING
Dr. Pessah said research scientists across the UC-Davis campus, including the veterinary school, wonder whether the campus administration had been responsive to concerns about delays in studies unrelated to COVID-19.
“But we are also very cognizant of safety as we move forward to ramp up,” he said. “So there are mitigating programs that have been put in place, especially for more junior faculty that—if your research has been delayed to the point where it has an impact on your ability to fulfill the missions in your grants—you can apply for bridge funding to try to mitigate those delays.”
The Office of Research leads that effort in cooperation with the deans, Dr. Pessah said. The amount available will depend on demand.
Most of the studies out of the School of Veterinary Medicine, though, met the definition of essential research because they deal with topics such as food animal health and food safety or require ongoing data collection to avoid massive losses, Dr. Pessah said.
“We've had a very open line of communication with all researchers—whether they use animals, cell lines, or a combination—to make sure that their essential research continues” and their safety is maintained, he said.
As theoreticians, Dr. Cramer and the members of his research group work from home, in doing so following an order from Gov. Tim Walz that all people can work from home when possible. For other teams, the most challenging aspect tended to be deciding how to schedule workspace in ways that give people appropriate distance from one another while considering the space usually needed for their work.
When the fall semester began, though, new researchers needed training on laboratory techniques.
“Sometimes, you need to be standing side by side with somebody,” Dr. Cramer said. “So, we've had to think about what things should be delayed in terms of training new people. Can we come up with techniques to deliver training without requiring folks to be too close to one another for too long a period?”
For now, some of the trainers have relied on video-based training, whereas in-person instructors simply stood further away during their lessons and added plexiglass barriers, he said.
Though some researchers at the University of Minnesota developed COVID-19, none of those infections were traced to their workplaces or co-workers, Dr. Cramer said.
As for the research animal population, the University of Minnesota's mouse population was about 80% of its pre-pandemic total and climbing, Dr. Cramer said. Activity in the vivariums remained down to provide distance between researchers.
Dr. Taylor said that, for research institutions, business was returning to normal. He said researchers at Emory remained dedicated to their work and know it is important.
“The work goes on,” he said. “The animals need to be taken care of. The research needs to move forward.”
AVMA HOSTS MEMBERS OF CONGRESS FOR BRIEFING ON DISEASE CENTER
Members of Congress and their staff attended an AVMA-hosted briefing on the expected benefits of a national animal disease center under construction in Kansas.
In the briefing, Dr. Alfonso Clavijo, director of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, described the facility's importance for defending against foreign animal diseases and zoonoses. An AVMA announcement indicates more than 100 lawmakers and congressional staff members attended the Sept. 16 virtual meeting.
“The briefing raised awareness of the importance of the nation's animal health infrastructure and emphasized the need for a coordinated, One Health approach to safeguard animal agriculture, the economy, and public health,” an AVMA announcement states.
The NBAF has been under construction since May 2015 in Manhattan, Kansas—home to Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine—as a collaboration of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Agriculture. Federal officials plan for the facility to become fully operational in December 2022.
Once completed, the NBAF in central Kansas will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York as the nation's premier site for studying transboundary, emerging, and zoonotic diseases that threaten people, animals, and the economy, according to USDA information. Its 48-acre campus will include a 574,000-square-foot biocontainment laboratory facility to develop vaccines, provide diagnostic testing, and develop countermeasures against diseases affecting animals or originating in them.
Operations conducted now at Plum Island will fully transition to the NBAF by the end of 2023.
Experts in veterinary technology education discussed several topics, including the history of the profession of veterinary technology and the need to teach leadership-related skills to veterinary technology students.
The Association of Veterinary Technician Educators moved its symposium online this year. The three-day event, held Aug. 7, Sept. 19, and Oct. 17, focused on the past, present, and future of the profession.
Garnetta Santiago, licensed veterinary technician and president of the New York State Association of Veterinary Technicians, spoke during “Preparing the Pipeline: Cultivating Future Leaders in Veterinary Technology” about how to develop leadership skills in the classroom. Santiago is also manager of academic and professional affairs for Zoetis.
“At some point, we are all going to retire from this field, and it is our job—a big part of our job in addition to conveying the clinical information—to prepare them (veterinary technology students) to lead going forward,” she said. “There is no one definition of leadership. It looks different to different individuals. Regardless of how it looks, it is all about influencing one another. We know good leadership can influence in a positive way.”
Santiago suggested educators center on building skills related to emotional intelligence in the classroom.
“Emotional intelligence is an important part of effective leadership,” she said. “It provides a framework for social interactions, and it helps build meaningful human connection and will help manifest physical and psychological well-being.”
Santiago broke down emotional intelligence into the following three pillars:
Self-awareness or self-understanding. For example, evaluating whether you are the correct person for a leadership role.
Social awareness, or being able to accept and use feedback from others.
Self-management, or the importance of building resiliency within.
Dr. Jim Hurrell spoke about the need to teach emotional intelligence or soft skills to veterinary technicians, too, during the session “Leadership Fundamentals and Technician Utilization.” He is director emeritus of the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities-accredited distance learning program in veterinary technology at Penn Foster College, a for-profit career school.
He said while there is an increased demand for veterinary nurses, retention is still an issue. A survey from Penn Foster asked 80 practice managers and owners about challenges and goals for 2020. Published in May, results suggested respondents were concerned about filling staff positions because of a lack of skilled veterinary technicians or underdeveloped skills such as communication, customer service, and problem-solving.
Dr. Hurrell said teaching about mindset, or how to approach a situation, is the first part of teaching leadership.
“Mindset is our biggest asset,” he said. “Leadership is a mindset.”
He encouraged session participants to read “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown, PhD, and “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck, PhD.
Santiago also encouraged educators to help veterinary technology students identify areas within the profession where people face challenges because that could be the place for the students to be future leaders. She added opportunities are everywhere, especially now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but advised not getting overwhelmed by a challenge.
“How do we eat an elephant?” she asked. “One forkful at a time.… Students don't have to solve the whole problem. Avoid the trap of thinking you have to fix the whole thing. Any step is progress.”
The AVMA recently released a resource page dedicated to how veterinary technicians can improve a practice. The page, at jav.ma/success, includes tips on how a practice can benefit from better utilizing credentialed veterinary technicians, what their skill sets can include, and ways to offer continuing education and training for veterinary technicians.
VETERINARIANS ELECTED TO NATIONAL ACADEMY OF MEDICINE
Veterinarians Drs. William A. Beltran and Amy L. Vincent were elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine this October.
Election to the National Academy of Medicine is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.
Dr. Beltran was recognized by the academy for his translational research that has provided the scientific community with several clinically relevant large animal models of inherited retinal degeneration. These models have been used successfully to test neuroprotective, optogenetic, and gene therapy strategies, which have led to human clinical trials.
The academy recognized Dr. Vincent for her groundbreaking research leading to improved vaccines and surveillance for swine influenza, characterization of vaccine-associated enhanced disease in a swine influenza model, and characterization of the pandemic potential of swine influenza viruses.
They are the only veterinarians among the 100 new members elected to the academy during the organization's annual meeting on Oct. 19.
“This distinguished and diverse class of new members is a truly exceptional group of scholars and leaders whose expertise in science, medicine, health, and policy will be integral to helping the NAM address today's most pressing health challenges and inform the future of health and health care for the benefit of everyone around the globe,” NAM President Victor J. Dzau said.
Dr. Beltran, who earned his veterinary degree in 1994 from the National Veterinary School of Alfort in France, is a professor of ophthalmology and director of the Division of Experimental Retinal Therapies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. The division is dedicated to providing the necessary scientific and technical support to facilitate the development, testing, and screening of new retinal therapies that can prevent blindness in humans and their animal companions.
Dr. Vincent (Iowa State ‘02) is a research veterinary medical officer and lead scientist with the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service. She is also an affiliate associate professor in the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Graduate Program at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
CANINE STUDY CHALLENGES ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT JOINT DISEASE
A study by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Cornell University is challenging conventional assumptions about the lubricin protein and mammalian joint disease.
The team's findings, published Oct. 7 in Scientific Reports, indicate that in 30 dogs with a ligament tear in the knee, lubricin concentrations actually increased within the joint.
“The dogma in this field has been that lubricin decreases in joint disease,” said Heidi Reesink, PhD, assistant professor in equine health at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and senior author of the paper, in a press release.
The Cornell study is the first investigation of lubricin's role in cruciate ligament injuries in dogs. In three of the canine patients with a joint injury, researchers found lubricin concentration dramatically increased in the time between the initial injury and development of radiographic signs of arthritis.
“This indicates that the presence of increased lubricin might actually be a biomarker for predicting future osteoarthritis,” Dr. Reesink explained.
“We also saw increased lubricin in dogs months to years after they injured their ACLs, suggesting that lubricin might be an indicator of ongoing joint instability,” she added, saying that increased lubricin concentration could potentially be a trigger for clinicians to intervene or try a different treatment approach.
Dr. Reesink and her collaborators laid the groundwork for this study by completing a systematic review of the literature surrounding lubricin in both human and veterinary medicine.
The review, published this summer in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, looked at human and animal studies, finding two types of results on the topic.
First, rodent studies showed a decrease in lubricin concentration, which is what has led to the predominant theory in the field.
“There is a citation bias for these studies, and we think it might be motivated by those looking at lubricin as a therapeutic,” Dr. Reesink said.
Second, the horse studies showed an increase in lubricin concentration, while the human studies were equally divided. Consequently, there is no unified consensus on how lubricin concentration is altered in other domestic veterinary species and in human joint injury.
“In looking at horses and dogs, we're seeing the same pattern,” Dr. Reesink said. “The strongest piece of data would be to show it in humans as well.”
“It's worth looking at in canine patients, both for the benefit of the dogs and also for potentially drawing links between canine patients with this disease and similar injuries in humans like ACL tears,” Dr. Reesink said.
Her team plans a follow-up longitudinal study in dogs, examining multiple time points in a patient's injury, treatment, and recovery process. The team also hopes to draw similar connections in human ACL tears and other orthopedic injuries.
Dr. Reesink is currently examining parallel samples from both the Cornell Veterinary Biobank and the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, using funding from a pilot grant from the Weill Cornell Medicine Clinical and Translational Science Center.
NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR 2021 AVMA AWARDS
The nomination period is open for the following AVMA Excellence Awards for 2021. The awards program recognizes contributions by veterinarians and nonveterinarians to the veterinary profession and to animal health and welfare.
THE AVMA AWARD
This award recognizes a distinguished AVMA member who has contributed to the advancement of veterinary medicine in its organizational aspects.
AVMA ADVOCACY AWARD
This award recognizes an individual for contributions to advancing the AVMA's legislative agenda and advocating on behalf of the veterinary profession.
AVMA ANIMAL WELFARE AWARD
This award recognizes an AVMA member veterinarian in recognition of achievements in advancing the welfare of animals via leadership, public service, education, research, product development, or advocacy.
AVMA CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD IN CANINE RESEARCH
This award honors an AVMA member's long-term contribution to the field of canine research.
AVMA CLINICAL RESEARCH AWARD
This award recognizes a veterinarian for achievements in patient-oriented research, including the study of mechanisms of disease, therapeutic interventions, clinical trials, development of new technologies, and epidemiological studies.
AVMA GLOBAL VETERINARY SERVICE AWARD
This award recognizes outstanding service by an AVMA member who has contributed to international understanding of veterinary medicine.
AVMA HUMANE AWARD
This award recognizes a nonveterinarian for achievements in advancing the welfare of animals through leadership, public service, education, research, product development, or advocacy.
AVMA LIFETIME EXCELLENCE IN RESEARCH AWARD
This award recognizes a veterinarian researcher on the basis of lifetime achievement in basic, applied, or clinical research. Nominees will be considered on the total impact their careers have had on the veterinary or biomedical professions.
AVMA MERITORIOUS SERVICE AWARD
This award recognizes a veterinarian who has brought honor and distinction to the veterinary profession through personal, professional, or community service activities outside the scope of organized veterinary medicine or research.
AVMA PUBLIC SERVICE AWARD
This award recognizes an AVMA member veterinarian for long terms of outstanding public service or unusual contributions to the practice or science of public health and regulatory veterinary medicine.
AVMF/WINN FELINE FOUNDATION RESEARCH AWARD
This award, established by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and the Winn Feline Foundation, recognizes an individual's contribution to advancing feline health through research.
BUSTAD COMPANION ANIMAL VETERINARIAN OF THE YEAR AWARD
This award recognizes a distinguished member of the veterinary profession for outstanding work in preserving and protecting the human-animal bond.
The deadline for all award nominations is Feb. 17, 2021. Award information and the nomination form are available at avma.org/awards. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or if assistance is needed.
AVMA OFFERS CLIENT HANDOUT ON TESTING PETS FOR SARS-COV-2
The AVMA has developed a client handout on “Testing your pet for SARS-CoV-2,” available at jav.ma/testinghandout, to help pet owners understand when their pets might need to be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19.
Most pets will not need to be tested for SARS-CoV-2, according to the handout.
“When testing is appropriate, samples should always be collected by a licensed veterinarian in consultation with a state public health veterinarian or state animal health official after a complete evaluation of an ill pet,” the document states.
The handout is in a Q&A format, answering the following questions:
Why isn't routine testing recommended?
What does illness in pets infected with SARS-CoV-2 look like?
When might testing be appropriate?
What should I do if I think my pet may have the virus?
“Despite millions of cases of COVID-19 in people worldwide, there are very few reports of pets becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2,” according to the handout. “Even fewer pets have become ill.”
Per the handout, “Signs of illness thought to be compatible with SARS-CoV-2 infection in pets include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, lethargy, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea.” Testing may be justified in some cases, such as when “a pet has signs of illness consistent with infection by the virus, more common causes for the illness have been ruled out, and the pet has been in close contact with a known or suspected COVID-19 human patient or the pet has been exposed to a high-risk environment.”
The handout advises pet owners to call their veterinarian if they're concerned that their pet might have the virus.
APHIS AWARDS $2.8M TO COMBAT CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing nearly $2.8 million to several states to combat chronic wasting disease.
In October, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced more than $2.4 million will be awarded to 15 state departments of natural resources and one tribal nation. Five state departments of agriculture will receive a combined total of $349,531 to combat CWD.
The funds will allow these partners to further develop and implement CWD management, response, and research activities, including surveillance and testing. APHIS gave priority to states and tribes in states that have detected CWD and have a CWD monitoring and control program or that propose to create a control program.
Funding recipients include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, along with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
APHIS used $200,000 to continue funding work on validating the use of predictive genetics in white-tailed deer. Additionally, $1.26 million was allocated for indemnity payments to producers to assist state agricultural agencies in controlling CWD by removing infected herds or exposed cervids.
“APHIS is committed to protecting agriculture and wildlife across the country, and slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease across our agricultural and wildlife landscapes contributes to that vital mission,” said Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, in a statement.
PIVOT OR PERISH VETERINARY LEADERS TALK INDUSTRY TRENDS
E-commerce, telemedicine, and other innovations making their way into clinics because of consumer demand
By Malinda Larkin
Powerful forces are influencing change in the veterinary landscape. Pet and livestock owners are demanding more from veterinarians; there's growing interest in making the profession more diverse, equitable, and inclusive; and technology continues to evolve, affecting medicine, goods, and services alike.
Matthew J. Salois, PhD, chief economist at the AVMA, pointed to e-commerce, automation, and telemedicine as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion as particularly important trends in the profession. He and other leaders in the veterinary industry spoke on these topics during the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28 and attended by more than 410 individuals.
BE WHERE THE CLIENT IS
To be successful, veterinarians need to adapt with agility and adopt innovation and technology to thrive. Increased collaboration among the entire ecosystem of the veterinary industry will be necessary to successfully navigate the tides of change. These thoughts were shared during a roundtable discussion among veterinary leaders representing companies and organizations dedicated to animal nutrition, diagnostics and analytics, pharmaceuticals, and the distribution of animal health products.
Kathy Turner, corporate vice president and chief marketing officer of Idexx, said her company has seen an interesting impact on diagnostics during the pandemic.
With curbside check-in becoming the new norm at veterinary clinics and less time spent discussing pets’ health status in the examination room with clients, the company has found veterinarians relying more on diagnostics to assess each patient's health on the first visit and determine a more definitive treatment.
“In the past, veterinarians may have relied more on the client's assessment of their pet, they might not have run a full diagnostic panel, or they took a wait-and-see attitude to see if the pet gets better on its own, especially when the condition might not appear to be critical—all to save clients money,” Turner said. “But these days, pet owners don't want to come back for a second visit. They want their pet's health condition addressed immediately. And frankly, with practices being so busy and, in some cases, short staffed clinicians also don't want to see the same pet twice for the same condition.”
She added that diagnostics are a service that can only be performed by a veterinary professional and, thus, can be an effective way for them to build durable revenue streams. Turner mentioned that the Vet Connect software from Idexx allows clinicians to review diagnostic results from home and share those with clients via email, a service they may already have with their own physicians.
Doug Brooks, vice president of business development at Compassion-First Pet Hospitals, said one of the biggest trends that will transform the industry and will require collaboration from veterinarians is that there are going to be more medications and other products available outside veterinary channels.
“With the advent of Chewy and Amazon getting into this space as well as Walmart opening practices at some of their facilities, I really think this increased access is actually going to be really good for the brick-and-mortar vet, whether it's changing the focus to telehealth and how we get clients to be seen for initial consultation before they come in or are there opportunities to use technology to diagnose pets rather than having them come into the practice?”
He further emphasized that more veterinary clients are looking for ways to get stuff done online.
“They're sitting at home making health care decisions. Kroger delivers to my door. It's only 2 miles way, but it's easier for me to dial my phone. Veterinarians not focused on e-commerce will be missing out,” he said.
For those reluctant to do so, he advises them to change their mindset about how profitable offering online products and services needs to be.
“A little bit of something is a whole lot better than a whole lot of nothing. The increased volume will make up for the increase in price,” Brooks said. “Crumbs are still bread.”
Bob Betz, vice president of sales for Royal Canin, said diversity, equity, and inclusion are also pervasive topics that require addressing in the veterinary profession, inside and out.
Externally, minorities are veterinarians’ clients. “We have to communicate in ways that work for them. We have to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and talk to them and understand them, make them feel comfortable coming to us,” he said.
Internally, the profession has evolved from being nearly all white male to now more than half female and will continue to trend that way. Race- and ethnicitywise, it still has a ways to go, which means making more concerted efforts to reach and connect with different populations.
“Whether it's a clinic or pet food company, if you want to recruit the best talent, they have to feel comfortable with you and you have to know where to look for them,” Betz said. Royal Canin asked, “Why aren't we getting more diverse candidate pools?”
The company needed to go to historically Black colleges and universities. “And looking deeper at the schools we were recruiting at, we weren't getting the full diversity of the population just by how we were showing up,” Betz said, because of how the company advertised itself.
Royal Canin also has been working to promote more women in leadership positions by sponsoring the Women's Veterinary Leadership Forum.
BETTING ON NEW TECHNOLOGY
If Rick DeLuca had one piece of advice to give, it would be this: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Whether that's doing something new or challenging once a day, week, or month, the executive vice president and global president of Merck Animal Health said he continues to push himself. “If you're not uncomfortable, you're not growing.”
He gave the featured keynote, “Transformation in Action: Leadership Lessons From Rick DeLuca,” on the first day of the AVMA Economic Summit. He was joined by Dr. Christine Royal, director of veterinary professional services for Merck's U.S. equine and companion animal business unit, and Dr. Salois, the AVMA chief economist, in a Q&A session on Oct. 26.
DeLuca said technology is and will continue to be a big driver of transformation in the industry.
“It's our job as a company to source data from everything we do,” he said. “If you don't do that, you're doing a disservice to the future.”
Further, whether it is collecting information from dogs or beef cattle wearing tracking collars or from clinical work, gathering that information “will make product offerings better, allow our colleagues and partners to have more time and better compliance, and provide longer lives and better treatments for the animals they take care of.”
He referenced Merck Animal Health Intelligence, announced in early October and led by Dr. Jeroen van de Ven—a specialized operating unit that encompasses the brands of Allflex Livestock Intelligence, Sure Petcare, and Biomark, which provide digital technology for animal identification, animal monitoring, and smart data management for livestock and companion animals; Vaki, a company focused on equipment for monitoring fish farming and conservation of wild fish; and the most recent acquisitions, IdentiGen and Quantified Ag.
IdentiGen's technology combines each species’ unique DNA and data analytics to provide an animal traceability product called DNA TraceBack that applies to cattle, aquaculture, swine, and poultry. Quantified Ag is a data and analytics company that monitors cattle body temperature and movement to detect illness early.
He said the creation of Merck Animal Health Intelligence will help shift the company from being known for selling biopharmaceutical products to being “a real solutions provider.”
WHAT VETERINARIANS DO BEST
Practitioners and veterinary staff members remain so busy running veterinary clinics, particularly during the pandemic, that the idea of huge new undertakings such as creating an online store for the clinic or implementing telemedicine may seem overwhelming.
Brooks said, “One thing we need to be cognizant of is, with less staff on hand, veterinary technicians are being asked to do more. Everyone in the veterinary hospital is attuned to burnout. In mid-COVID times, we need to be even more attuned to stress levels of the doctors and support staff. It has definitely increased, especially as the (patient) volume has gone up.”
So how do clinics pivot in the middle of uncertain times? Dr. Salois said in his keynote speech that to remain adaptable, people need to have principles that allow them to respond to the changes coming at them (see page 1219). More specifically, the way to go is to maintain excellent customer service—be it in person or virtual—as well as make incremental changes and collaborate with others.
He gave the example of concerns he's heard from veterinarians about Chewy announcing its telehealth service, Connect With a Vet, in late October. Through the service, pet owners can chat with veterinarians and get answers “to some of the most commonly asked questions,” as well as “receive advice” and “discuss concerns they might have regarding the health and wellness of their pet,” according to Chewy.
Dr. Salois said clients still don't know what to make of telemedicine because they're trying to figure out how it works in their own health care.
“But they do want to be connected to their veterinarian. Not a random veterinarian in their community or nationally. They want their vet.”
Later, he added: “What I hear from vets is ‘I can't compete. I can't be Amazon. I can't be Chewy.’ You're right, you can't. But Amazon and Chewy can't be you. The veterinarian has the most valuable asset in front of her, which is the client. You have proximity, trust, and a rapport that Chewy could never capture that you do so well. You think about products and practice and what Chewy and Amazon are doing. But think about what you do best and that will always put you in the No. 1 place.”
VETERINARY EDUCATIONAL DEBT CONTINUES TO RISE
By Kaitlyn Mattson
Student educational debt is growing 4.5 times as fast as income for new veterinary graduates, according to a presentation by Bridgette Bain, PhD, associate director of analytics at the AVMA.
Dr. Bain spoke on “Supply and Demand in the Market for Veterinary Education” at the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28, drawing largely on data from the 2020 AVMA Senior Survey. She said the way student debt is increasing quicker than starting salaries is not sustainable.
“We have to keep our eye on it so we can develop strategies and we can work to counteract this,” she said.
Although there has been an overall increase in the debt-to-income ratio, debt for veterinary students in the 2020 graduating class varies greatly by institution.
For example, Washington State University and Purdue University both had a decrease of more than 10% in mean veterinary educational debt, whereas Mississippi State University and Auburn University had increases of greater than 15%.
“This means there is a conversation to be had,” Dr. Bain said. “What can the schools that manage to graduate students … with a (year-over-year) reduction in debt teach the schools that have a year-over-year debt level increase of up to 20%? What can we learn from each other so we can have a better situation for the entire profession?”
Dr. Bain also discussed data that show the debt load varies by race. Black or African American graduates had more debt than their peer graduates. White or Caucasian students had the lowest amount of debt.
Other key points highlighted during the session include the following:
The mean educational debt for all U.S. veterinary college graduates for 2020, including those without debt, was $157,146.
Ninety-four percent of graduates secured full-time employment or had accepted a position in advanced education by two weeks before graduation.
Nineteen percent of veterinary students graduated with a debt-to-income ratio of zero, but 20% graduated with a ratio of 4:1. The mean debt-to-income ratio was 2:1.
Women graduated with a higher debt-to-income ratio, on average, than men.
Thirty-nine students, or 1.4% of 2020 graduates, graduated with debt higher than the total cost of their veterinary education.
Students who reported a major life event during their veterinary education had more debt than those who did not. Also, students who had to repeat courses had higher debt. Forty-six percent of all students with debt had a budget.
The majority of the 2020 graduates reported they plan to go into companion animal medicine, while 33.3% said they plan to go into advanced education, including an internship, residency, or PhD program. However, the percentage of graduates who said they plan to pursue internships is declining.
The mean weighted starting salary for students entering full-time employment was $90,722.
The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on starting salaries has yet to be seen. In comparison, the effect of the 2008 financial crisis was not seen until 2010, Dr. Bain said.
Seventy percent of veterinary graduates said there was no change to their offers of employment because of COVID-19. But 3%, or about 90 students, said their offer was revoked or withdrawn.
“Although salaries have increased between 2019 and 2020, we have yet to see the impact of COVID-19 on starting salaries,” Dr. Bain said. “So far, we have been good, but as things continue to unfold, we'll see what will happen.”
VETERINARY COLLEGE APPLICANTS INCREASED BY 19%
The number of people applying to veterinary colleges increased by 19% year over year, and it could be pandemic related.
A total of 10,273 individuals submitted applications for the 2020-21 veterinary college admissions cycle, compared with 8,645 last year, according to preliminary data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.
In times of uncertainty, people go to school, said Lisa Greenhill, EdD, AAVMC senior director for institutional research and diversity.
“Applications to veterinary school have been trending up in the last few years, so at least a modest increase was already anticipated,” she said. “It is important to note that in economic downturns, applications to graduate and professional programs always increase as undergraduates completing their programs often have difficulty finding employment.”
Forty-four of AAVMC's member colleges use the Veterinary Medical College Application Service to process applications. The full list of AAVMC member institutions is at jav.ma/AAVMCmembers. Most U.S. veterinary colleges use the service.
The 19% increase is substantial in that, while the number of applicants has gone up over the last few years, the typical increase has been around 6-7%.
The data also show a rise in the submission rate, or the percentage of applicants who complete the application process with VMCAS after beginning it. The rate was 79% during the 2020-21 cycle and has previously averaged 72-73%.
The reason for the increase is unclear. However, the AAVMC did open the applicant window in January this year as opposed to the typical May time frame to give applicants more time to work on their applications, according to a press release. The AAVMC's Office of Admissions and Recruitment also did more webinars and communicated more with applicants.
“Given the economic uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the coming year, more individuals decided to apply now,” Dr. Greenhill said. “Certainly, there are likely other factors that drove the numbers this high. As usual, AAVMC will be surveying applicants and hopefully will have more insights to share in 2021.”
VETERINARY LABOR DEMAND REMAINS STRONG DURING COVID
By R. Scott Nolen
The U.S. market for veterinary labor remains robust despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the national unemployment rate reached nearly 15% this April and May, the veterinary profession actually saw a slight drop in its unemployment numbers, from 0.8% in 2019 to 0.7% in 2020.
“The veterinary profession was somewhat untouched by the pandemic,” observed Charlotte Hansen, assistant director of statistical analysis for the AVMA, during her presentation at the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28.
“We hear anecdotes of employers being busier than ever, and they can't find employees to hire, and the AVMA Veterinary Career Center also backs that up,” Hansen said. “In the most recent months, we have had a higher number of jobs posted than in 2019, and the unemployment rate from our census of veterinarians is no different.”
The true rate of unemployment among veterinarians represents those seeking employment who cannot find it, Hansen explained. Data also show a decline in those enrolling in advanced education and those not seeking employment at all.
A second indicator of a strong veterinary labor market is the ratio of supply to demand. Compared with the national average of approximately five applicants for every one job, AVMA Veterinary Career Center figures show there are more jobs for veterinarians than there are veterinarians to fill them.
Veterinarian income also increased in 2020, with the professionwide mean income climbing to approximately $120,000. “We also see variation across different practice types,” Hansen said. “Let's look at food animal exclusive for 2020.” The mean income was $104,000, and most veterinarians reported having income between $60,000 and $150,000.
On average, food animal and companion animal practitioners tend to have higher salaries than those in other types of private practice, Hansen said. In public practice, individuals in industry or working for commercial organizations and as consultants, on average, have higher salaries.
Regarding the demographics of the veterinary profession, Hansen said the average age is 46 years old, and the profession is approaching 70% female. In terms of ethnicity, 4% of veterinarians identify as being of Hispanic or Latino origin. As for race, 92% of the profession is white, while the remaining 8% is minority, including multiracial (4%), Asian (3%), and Black (1%).
“Look in a mirror,” Hansen said. “Our profession does not mimic our population. It is critical that we have a diverse profession to bring it to challenge ideas and ask new questions.”
Rethinking pricing strategies
Study highlights client sensitivity to veterinary fees
By R. Scott Nolen
Successful business owners maximize profits by setting prices their customers are willing to pay them rather than their competitors.
It's an area where most veterinarians and practice managers still have a lot to learn, says Dr. Karen Felsted, president of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting.
“I think we would all agree that we're not overly sophisticated in our pricing methodologies and that we have a lot to learn about what pet owners want, what they want to spend, and what we can reasonably charge,” Dr. Felsted said during her presentation at the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28.
To aid veterinary practice owners in this important area, Dr. Felsted highlighted portions of new research on the pricing sensitivities of pet owners and the kinds of veterinary services they value.
Economist Utpal Dholakia, PhD, is the primary author of the paper “The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association Pet Owners Economic Value Study,” which surveyed approximately 3,500 cat and dog owners across a diversity of ages, household incomes, and geographic locations.
The study, Dr. Felsted explained, employs a common price sensitivity method to evaluate customer willingness to pay for products and services and discover the economic value consumers place on these products and services.
Pet owners were asked how much they would pay under three conditions: preferred price, or the ideal cost a pet owner would like to pay; reference price, or the cost pet owners believe is a reasonable amount to pay; and acceptable price range, or the range of prices within which owners will consider purchasing specific services.
Ultimately, the study shows that the cost of veterinary services is still an issue for many pet owners. “It's a rare practice that doesn't say they get a fair amount of pushback on the prices that they charge,” Dr. Felsted said.
She presented the findings for three service areas commonly provided by companion animal general practices, although eight areas are addressed in the study, which is available on the VHMA website at jav.ma/VHMAstudy.
Owner expectations and veterinary fees most closely correlate in the physical examination area. For example, the preferred price for a canine physical examination was $51 and $49 for a feline physical examination. The reference price ranged from $57-$59. The acceptable price range was $50-$76 for dogs and $41-$66 for cats.
The preferred price ranges, Dr. Felsted noted, track closely with the actual price ranges in the 2018 edition of the American Animal Hospital Association's Veterinary Fee Reference.
Owner expectations and veterinary fees become more disparate in the X-ray area. Dog owners said their preferred price was $66 and put the reference price around $80. The preferred price for cat owners was $51, and their reference price was $75. Depending on the type of package, the AAHA fee reference lists the price range for X-rays between $148-$175.
“So there's a pretty big difference here between what pet owners say they want to pay and what we're actually charging,” Dr. Felsted said.
Although comparisons between the VHMA study and the AAHA fee reference were difficult to make, Dr. Felsted said the dental care service area is where the biggest disconnect between pet owners and veterinary practices exists. In the VHMA study, the preferred and reference prices for dogs were $75 and $90, respectively. For cats, the preferred price was $65, and the reference price was $77. According to the AAHA reference, the average cost of dental service is over $500.
“Anybody that's worked in veterinary medicine with any idea of what dentals cost knows these (owner) prices are ludicrous, right? You can barely open their (the pet's) mouth for $75,” she said. “But we clearly have a large disconnect here.”
The demographic breakdown of the VHMA study showed dog owners were generally willing to pay more for veterinary services than cat owners. Urban and suburban pet owners were willing to pay more than rural owners. Also, pet owners ages 19-29 were willing to pay more than other generations. All of these data points track with previous research, Dr. Felsted noted.
The VHMA study also looked at the services dog and cat owners are willing to pay more for. The study ranked 16 services typically considered to add value to the client's experience. The top three services were overnight boarding, which was No. 1 for dog owners and No. 2 for cat owners; house calls, which was No. 2 for dog owners and No. 1 for cat owners; and extended hours during evenings and weekends.
“We talk a lot in veterinary medicine about adding value to the client experience and providing the things that pet owners want,” Dr. Felsted said, “but is that something owners want to spend money for, or is that a value feature that owners think already should be included in the fees I'm charging?
“At a minimum, it means we've got to understand what it is that the pet owners of that particular practice find value in and are willing to pay more for.”
Dr. Felsted believes the profession should recognize that companion animal practitioners must offer a spectrum of veterinary services with corresponding pricing instead of a single standard of care.
“We like the idea of practices all offering a gold standard of care and all pets getting that, but realistically there are many pet owners out there who can't afford a standard of care,” she said. “It's not a choice here. It's that they genuinely can't afford it.”
That does not mean veterinarians should lower their fees. “I don't ever think that that's a particularly good response to clients not wanting to pay more,” Dr. Felsted explained. “I do think it means that we have to look at our pricing strategies and recognize that, in some communities, there are some openings there for some more affordable care practices.”
Women practice owners projected to overtake men within a decade
Corporate ownership spikes while private holdings fall
By R. Scott Nolen
The size of the nation's active veterinary workforce in 2019 was approximately 116,000 members, of whom 63% were female, marking a 12% increase in women veterinarians over the past decade.
“From these statistics, along with what we know about gender distribution of new DVM graduates and veterinary college students, it's clear that we have a profession that is a majority female and will remain so for the next several decades,” said Frederic Ouedraogo, PhD, AVMA assistant director of economics.
These findings were among the latest information about the U.S. market for veterinary services that Dr. Ouedraogo shared at the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28. His talk also covered trends in the veterinary workforce, the number of veterinary practices in the U.S., and how clinics have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. veterinary workforce comprises five generations—the silent generation (1928-45), baby boomers (1945-64), Generation × (1965-80), millennials (1981-96) and Generation Z (1997-2012)—making it one of the nation's most generationally diverse professions.
The percentage of the veterinary workforce under the age of 50 declined from about 61% in 2007 to 58% in 2019. At the same time, the proportion of the workforce over 65 increased from about 4% to 9%.
“The question,” Dr. Ouedraogo said, “is do we have a sustainable replacement plan? By that, I mean do we have enough workers to continuously meet the national demand as our seniors retire from the workforce?”
Another trend Dr. Ouedraogo highlighted is the decline in the percentage of private practitioners who are owners, from 43% in 2007 to 33% in 2019. Practice ownership or co-ownership is associated with several benefits, including higher lifetime earnings and improved work-life balance, he noted.
“It's important that we start as a profession to think about ways to promote and encourage ownership,”
Dr. Ouedraogo said. “One way to do that is to include business management or startup finance classes in our curriculum. Another way is to advocate for government support to new DVM graduates who want to start a new business. It can be similar to the loan repayment program or any other incentives.”
Men currently make up the majority of private practice owners, but Dr. Ouedraogo said the percentage of women owners is increasing, shifting from 29% in 2007 to 41% in 2019. By 2028, the majority of U.S. practice owners will be women, he said.
More than 3,000 new veterinary practices opened between 2005-17, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, while the total number of practices was estimated to be around 32,000 in 2019. The share of small- and medium-size practices is declining, while the percentage of large practices—those with 10 or more employees—is trending up. As Dr. Ouedraogo explained, 41% of veterinary practices were large practices in 2009. By 2017, that had increased to 44%. During that same period, the share of practices with fewer than 10 employees dropped from 59% to 56%.
Approximately 77% of U.S. veterinary practices were corporate owned in 2019, he said, adding that the proportion of practices individually owned has been trending down, from 23% in 2009 to 15% in 2017.
Dr. Ouedraogo cited data from the Implan Group showing U.S. veterinary services to be a $33 billion market representing less than 2% of the national GDP. Despite that small percentage, veterinary services “remain a vital component of our economy. The veterinary sectors, of course, include the livestock and dairy industries, pharmaceutical companies, and many more,” he said.
Dr. Ouedraogo concluded his presentation with a summary of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. veterinary practices. The data come from a survey the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division conducted between April and May that estimated the change in productivity from before to during the pandemic in the following areas: patients per examination room, patients per full-time employee, and patients per day.
The highest drop in productivity occurred in veterinary partnerships, which experienced a decline of more than 50% in all three areas. “In other words, partnerships were not able to reach half of their typical production,” Dr. Ouedraogo said. “Individual proprietorships were also hard hit. Corporate-owned practices, on the other hand, reported the lowest variation in room and staff productivity.”
Practices in urban areas were the most impacted by the pandemic. For instance, the number of patients per medical staff member for urban practices was reduced by nearly half. For rural and suburban practices, the decline was around 44%.
Additionally, patients per examination room fell by 47% in urban practices, 46% in rural practices, and 44% in suburban practices. The number of patients per day dropped 46% in urban practices and 42% in suburban ones.
New, old challenges beg for radical change in veterinary profession
AVMA's chief economist talks about transformation through collaboration at summit
By Malinda Larkin
Nearly eight months into the pandemic, it almost feels as though we're living in an alternate reality, says Matthew J. Salois, PhD, AVMA chief economist.
Social distancing. Virtual schools and offices. Rampant unemployment in a shaky economy. Racial reckoning in a polarized society. And more than 200,000 lives lost to COVID-19 here in the U.S. alone, he said.
But, as Winston Churchill once said, never let a crisis go to waste. To make that happen, Dr. Salois said, you have to ask yourself what can be done better.
“We have to do better because we have to get through the alternative reality of COVID. Because at some point, we need to return to our original reality. The reality that was before this one. Why?” he asked. “The challenges that existed before the pandemic, they're still there, and we can't forget about them because while we remain in an alternate reality, our original reality is not getting taken care of.”
Change is a constant in everything we do, Dr. Salois said during his keynote address on the first day of the annual AVMA Economic Summit, held virtually Oct. 26-28. To remain adaptable, people need to have principles that allow them to respond to the changes coming at them. He explained the summit was not about providing rules and instructions for how to solve economic challenges, but instead was focused on outlining principles on the meeting's theme of transformation through collaboration.
In his talk, Dr. Salois discussed three realities confronting veterinarians that must be addressed to create a more economically sustainable profession.
The first reality: Nearly a third of the nation's pets don't see a veterinarian at least once a year. That's over $7 billion worth of veterinary care not being delivered to animals.
“And this is on top of the reality that you deal with every day, which is that two-thirds of pet owners you see may not be in compliance” with recommendations for care, Dr. Salois said.
Surveys of pet owners who don't regularly see a veterinarian suggest two underlying issues. Either these owners don't see the value, or they don't think they can afford veterinary care.
“If we're honest with ourselves, the cost of veterinary care isn't always the most transparent, at least not up until the point of sale, and the benefit isn't always clear to the owner, either. We need to fix our value proposition and make abundantly clear the value of veterinary care and do something about the ever-rising prices, especially when the perceived benefit may not be rising in tandem.”
The second reality: Most practices struggle with inefficiency.
That's according to data from AVMA surveys of practice owners, which collect information on inputs, such as the number of clinic staff members or examination rooms, and outputs, such as the number of patients seen in a week and revenue generated. That information is then analyzed by the AVMA economics team and used to provide insights into the efficiency of the profession.
Dr. Salois said 15%-25% of clinics fall into the highly efficient range—or 90-100 on a 100-point scale—followed by another 15%-25% in the medium efficiency range of 70-89. That leaves 50%-70% of practices falling in the low to very low range of efficiency.
“We have to fix this. So many things can influence this: positive leadership; better leveraging of staff, especially veterinary technicians; smarter inventory management; financial standardization and the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) chart of accounts; and better pricing strategies,” Dr. Salois said.
The third reality: Only one-third of veterinarians would recommend joining the profession to others. That's according to the executive summary of the Merck Animal Health Veterinarian Wellbeing Study II, published this past June (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2020;256:1237-1244).
Dr. Salois said while the veterinary profession is in the midst of an era of exciting momentum and change, with the advent of new technologies and innovations to deliver better care to pets while providing more value and convenience to pet owners, the profession is also coping with substantial challenges that seem daunting and insurmountable. These include burnout and compassion fatigue, crushing educational debt and financial insecurity, gender pay inequality, the lack of racial diversity, and the prevalence of suicide and psychological distress.
Dr. Salois told a story about how redwood tree roots are very shallow, often only 5 or 6 feet deep. But they make up for it in spread, sometimes extending up to 100 feet out from the trunk. They thrive in thick groves, where the roots can intertwine and even fuse together, which helps them hold each other up and withstand the forces of nature.
“If we are going to grow and nurture this profession into what we want it to be, if we are going to weather the storms of life, if we are going to become all that we can become, we can't do it alone,” Dr. Salois said. “We have to be dedicated to each other. There is no rulebook for this. There is not a set of instructions on how to transform yourself or build more meaningful collaborations.”
“This is not to say we aren't doing things—we are doing good things, important things. But a lot of the things being done are too comfortable to have the real impact we want and need,” Dr. Salois said.
What's needed are open, transparent, and honest conversations about these issues, especially at meetings and conferences, he said, as well as trying something different.
“Something bold, maybe even something risky. Something we never would have done before. The more radical, the better. Because if the input isn't radical, then neither will be the outcome,” Dr. Salois said. “Our profession is too important not to have that.”
BRAKKE FINDS PET OWNERS SETTLE IN FOR LONG HAUL DURING PANDEMIC
By Katie Burns
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted pet owners in various ways but has had little or no negative impact overall on pet care so far, according to a study by Brakke Consulting.
Brakke conducted the “COVID-19: Impact on Pet Care” study in three waves during early May, mid-June, and late July to early August, surveying a national random sample of 1,000 pet owners for each wave. John Volk, a senior consultant at Brakke, presented key study results on Oct. 28 during the virtual AVMA Economic Summit.
About 19% of pet owners reported being unemployed in May, decreasing to 12% in June and 11% at the end of July. Just over a quarter of respondents in each wave reported reduced income as a result of the pandemic.
Expectations for a near-term recovery waned over the three waves of the study. In May, 39% of pet owners anticipated returning to pre-pandemic income for their household within three to six months, decreasing to 30% in June and 25% at the end of July.
“With the economic hardship, we wondered, though, whether this was having a negative impact on spending,” Volk said. “Certainly, there was some economizing, but interestingly there were more pet owners that said their pet spending had increased than said it had decreased.”
At the end of July, 23% of respondents reported spending more on their pets since the beginning of the pandemic, while 14% reported spending less. About 19% said they purchased pet food that was less expensive, and 12% said they purchased pet medications that were less expensive.
More than half of flea, tick, and heartworm medications were purchased online. The percentage ordered from an online retailer increased from 30% to 33% to 35% over the three waves of the study, while the percentage ordered through a veterinary clinic's online store decreased from 20% to 18% to 15%.
Most pet food continued to be purchased at brick-and-mortar stores, with about half purchased at retail stores and 22% purchased at pet stores across all three waves of the study.
In May, 39% of pet owners had canceled veterinary appointments because of the pandemic, decreasing to 34% in June and 29% at the end of July. Not everyone who wanted an appointment got one, though. At the end of July, 32% of pet owners had tried to schedule an appointment within the last month, and 23% of them were not able to do so at the time they wanted. Of those, 48% said no appointments were available, 34% said the clinic was only seeing emergencies, and 16% said the clinic was closed.
“So this would indicate to us that there was some reduction in supply of veterinary services during the pandemic, and we've certainly heard of those clinics that are open being extremely busy and really booked to the wall with appointments,” Volk said.
The format for appointments changed. About 56% of pet owners said they had curbside appointments, meaning they dropped off the pet and waited or came back later. About 30% of appointments were face-to-face. About 12% of appointments were by telemedicine.
The percentage of pet owners who rated their satisfaction as 4 out of 4 was 89% for a conventional visit, 63% for a drop-off visit, 53% for a phone call, and 38% for a video chat.
People: AMERICAN ANIMAL HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION
Connexity 2020, virtual meeting, Sept. 30-Oct. 3
The meeting offered topical sessions, including “Cannabis Medicine for Veterinary Teams” and “Telehealth 2.0: Beyond the VCPR, How to Integrate It Into Your Practice Tomorrow.” The workshops “Diversity in Veterinary Medicine: Mentoring and Recruiting for Lasting Change,” and “ER Bootcamp” were held prior to the meeting.
AAHA-Accredited Practice of the Year
Manheim Pike Veterinary Hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, won this award that recognizes outstanding achievements of accredited veterinary practice teams and celebrates ongoing advancements in veterinary medicine. Manheim Pike Veterinary Hospital was founded in 1964 in the middle of a field and has provided veterinary care on the same site ever since. The practice is dedicated to a positive workplace culture.
Dr. Pamela Nichols, West Bountiful, Utah, president; Dr. Adam Hechko, North Royalton, Ohio, president-elect; Dr. Margot K. Vahrenwald, Denver, vice president; Dr. Dermot Jevens, Greenville, South Carolina, secretary-treasurer; Dr. Guylaine Charette, Pembroke, Ontario, immediate past president; Garth Jordan, Lakewood, Colorado, chief executive officer; and directors—Cheryl Smith, Galway, New York; Dr. Mark Thompson, Eden, Wisconsin; and Dr. Scott Driever, Sugar Land, Texas
ASSOCIATION OF AVIAN VETERINARIANS
ExoticsCon 2020, virtual meeting, Sept. 11-12
AAV President's Service Appreciation Award
Dr. Anna Osofsky (California-Davis ‘99), Carrollton, Texas. A diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in avian practice, Dr. Osofsky practices at Carrollton West Pet Hospital. She serves as advisory council representative on the AAV executive board and is co-chair of the AAV Education Committee. Dr. Osofsky previously served as vice chair of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners’ Avian Credentials Committee and was a member of the AAV Research Committee.
AAV Outstanding Service Award
Dr. Yvonne van Zeeland (Utrecht ‘04), Utrecht, Netherlands. A diplomate of the European College of Zoological Medicine in avian medicine and small mammal medicine, Dr. van Zeeland serves as an assistant professor in the Division of Zoological Medicine at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She is a member of the AAV International Committee. A past president of the AAV, Dr. van Zeeland has served as AAV conference chair and has co-chaired the AAV Trilateral Committee and AAV International Committee.
Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery 2019-2020 Best Clinical Report, sponsored by Lafeber Company
Dr. Omar Zaheer, University of Guelph, for “Asymmetrical cloacoplasty for the treatment of chronic cloacal prolapse in psittaciformes: A case series”
Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery 2019-2020 Best Original Research, sponsored by Lafeber Company
Elke Gasthuys, PhD, Ghent University, for “Development of an in vivo lipopolysaccharide inflammation model to study the pharmacodynamics of COX-2 inhibitors celecoxib, mavacoxib, and meloxicam in cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus)”
Research Grant Award
AAV Support of Avian Research grants, Avian Health Fund: Dr. Hugues Beaufrere, University of Guelph, received $19,860 for “Lipoprotein measurements using gel-permeation-HPLC and a biochemical analyzer in normolipidemic and dyslipidemic Quaker parrots”; and Dr. Michael Lierz, Justus-Liebig University of Giessen, received $20,000 for “Investigations into vertical transmission of Psittacine bornavirus in parrots using cockatiels as a model.” Wild Bird Health Fund: Dr. Sonia Hernandez, University of Georgia, received $4,560 for “Urbanization of the American white ibis (Eudocimus albus): Impact on nestling pathogen dynamics.”
Drs. Ashley Zehnder, Newark, California, president; Byron De La Navarre, Chicago, president-elect; Len Donato, Wayne, Pennsylvania, treasurer; and Elizabeth B. Mackey, Athens, Georgia, immediate past president and conference chair
AMERICAN BOARD OF VETERINARY TOXICOLOGY
Virtual meeting, Aug. 3
Dr. Jay Albretsen (Purdue ‘88), Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dr. Albretsen earned his doctorate in toxicology in 1996 from Utah State University. A diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology and ABVT, he is principle study director at Charles River Laboratories in Mattawan, Michigan. Dr. Albretsen has served more than 10 years as candidate coordinator for the ABVT.
Dr. Kathryn LaQuaglia, North Carolina State University, for “Neutropenia in dogs receiving vincristine for treatment of immune-mediated thrombocytopenia”
Drs. Tam Garland, College Station, Texas, president; Ahna Brutlag, Bloomington, Minnesota, president-elect; Adrienne Bautista, Davis, California, secretary; Sherry Ripple, Bloomington, Minnesota, treasurer; and David Dorman, Raleigh, North Carolina, immediate past president
Obituaries: AS DEAN, PRITCHARD LED UC-DAVIS VETERINARY SCHOOL TO GREATNESS
By R. Scott Nolen
Dr. William R. Pritchard, a science adviser to two U.S. presidents and
veterinary college dean whose congressional testimony secured federal funding for veterinary education and teaching hospitals, died Oct. 18. He was 95.
The University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where Dr. Pritchard served as dean for 20 years, renamed its teaching hospital after Dr. Pritchard in 2007 in recognition of his career achievements in veterinary education and service.
“We celebrate his accomplishments and are saddened by his loss,” the school said in a statement.
Dr. Pritchard was born Nov. 15, 1924, in Portage, Wisconsin, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He graduated in 1946 with a veterinary degree from Kansas State University and would go on to earn a doctorate in 1953 from the University of Minnesota and, four years later, a law degree from the University of Indiana.
With his experience in tropical veterinary medicine, international agriculture development, and law, Dr. Pritchard served as an international consultant on several U.S. agricultural research and development programs and for the Rockefeller Foundation.
After his appointment in 1962 as dean of the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Pritchard started major expansions in facilities and the professional curriculum. He and other faculty leaders completed a comprehensive self-study document that gave rise to major curricular and policy changes in the 1970s.
In 1966, Dr. Pritchard testified before the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the future of veterinary education. His vision and leadership are credited with helping gain federal funding for veterinary schools and teaching hospitals in the U.S. and with making UC-Davis a model for American and Canadian veterinary schools.
Dr. Pritchard was appointed to President Lyndon Johnson's Science Advisory Committee Panel on the World Food Supply, chaired the Scientific and Cultural Exchange Mission to the USSR in 1967, and served on President Richard Nixon's Science Advisory Committee Panel on Biological and Medical Science.
Dr. Pritchard is survived by his wife, Deanna Falge; two daughters and a son; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Donations may be made to the UCD Foundation for the Pritchard Clinical Scholar Award and sent to UC-Davis, SVM, PO Box 1167, Davis, CA 95616.
DEAN MARSHAK FOREVER CHANGED VETERINARY MEDICINE AT UPENN
By R. Scott Nolen
Dr. Robert R. Marshak, the Vermont dairy practitioner who became University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine dean and sparked a renaissance in clinical science within the veterinary profession, died Oct. 20, 2020. He was 97.
“Dean Marshak's accomplishments as dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine are surpassed only by his unwavering love and dedication to our community. He worked tirelessly to redefine the veterinary profession and he is unquestionably the ‘Father of Veterinary Clinical Specialties,'” said Dr. Andrew M. Hoffman, dean of the UPenn veterinary school, in a statement.
Born in New York City on Feb. 23, 1923, Dr. Marshak would earn his veterinary degree in 1945 from Cornell University. After graduation, he started a successful dairy practice in Springfield, Vermont, that he ran until 1956, when he accepted a faculty position at Penn Vet. Within two years, Dr. Marshak was appointed chair of the Department of Medicine.
Under Dr. Marshak's direction, the veterinary school's curriculum was remade with a focus on clinical medicine. Writing in the Summer 1987 edition of the veterinary school's magazine, Dr. John E. Martin explained, “Dr. Marshak was keenly concerned about the great disparity between the programs for clinical science in medical schools and those in veterinary schools, and he lost no time in attacking this situation in a variety of ways.”
He recruited clinician-scientists who had established reputations, reconfigured work schedules so hospital clinicians had time available for research, and defined clinical veterinary specialties in response to the evolving need for advanced levels of competency.
In September 1973, Dr. Marshak was appointed dean of the UPenn veterinary school. During his 14-year tenure, Dr. Marshak oversaw the construction of the school's small animal hospital in the mid-1970s, enhancements and additions to Widener Hospital at New Bolton Center, and construction of the C. Mahlon Kline Center for Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, home to the veterinary school's large animal orthopedic surgical suite and pool recovery system.
“I attended the School of Veterinary Medicine from 1974 to 1980 when it was ‘Bob Marshak's School,'” said Dr. Joan C. Hendricks, Penn Vet dean from 2006-18, in a statement. “I was specifically there to be trained in the pioneering VMD-PhD program. His brilliance and innovation were palpable.”
Dr. Marshak retired as dean in July 1987.
He was a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and served as president in 1975. He served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the American Journal of Veterinary Research, Journal of the American Veterinary Radiology Society, and Cornell Veterinarian.
Dr. Marshak is survived by his second wife, Margo; three sons and a stepson; and a grandchild.
Memorial contributions may be made to the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and mailed to Penn Vet Office of Institutional Advancement, 3800 Spruce St., Suite 151E, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104, or via www.vet.upenn.edu/giving.
AVMA MEMBER | AVMA HONOR ROLL MEMBER | NONMEMBER | STUDENT
DANIEL L. BOWMAN
Dr. Bowman (Georgia ‘67), 78, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, died July 10, 2020. He practiced small animal medicine in Huntingdon County for more than 40 years prior to retirement in 2013. Dr. Bowman also provided his services to the Huntingdon County Humane Society. Early in his career, he served as a captain in the Army. Dr. Bowman was a past president of the Huntingdon Rotary Club and chaired the Board of Health of the Borough of Huntingdon. His wife, Patricia; a son and a daughter; three grandchildren; and a sister and two brothers survive him. Memorials may be made to the Huntingdon County Humane Society, 11371 School House Hollow Road, Huntingdon, PA 16652.
FREDERICK J. BURKE SR.
Dr. Burke (Tuskegee ‘54), 91, St. Louis, died July 3, 2020. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a supervisory medical officer prior to retirement. Earlier in his career, Dr. Burke served in the Air Force, attaining the rank of captain. He is survived by his wife, Edith; three sons and a daughter; and three stepsisters.
DAVIS G. KELLY
Kelly (Georgia ‘22), 24, Athens, Georgia, died July 3, 2020. He was a third-year student and president of his class at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Kelly most recently worked as an assistant at several veterinary clinics. He was a member of the Student AVMA. Kelly is survived by his parents and two sisters. Memorials may be made to the Davis Kelly UGA Vet School Memorial Scholarship, Development & Alumni Relations, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, gail.uga.edu/daviskelly.
Dr. Nir, 63, Naperville, Illinois, died July 6, 2020. A 1985 veterinary graduate of the University of Parma in Italy, he continued his education at Kansas State University, where he earned a master's in veterinary surgery and medicine in 1988. Dr. Nir went on to practice small animal, exotic, and emergency medicine in the Chicago area and became the owner of The-vet.net Animal Clinic in Naperville. Active in organized veterinary medicine, he was a past president of the Chicago VMA and Chicago Veterinary Medical Foundation and was a member of the Illinois State VMA. Dr. Nir is survived by three children, his mother, and two siblings.
THOMAS W. WANOUS
Dr. Wanous (Minnesota ‘59), 84, Minneapolis, died Oct. 17, 2020. Following graduation, he served as a captain in the Army in France. Dr. Wanous subsequently joined what is now known as Woodlake Veterinary Hospital in Richfield, Minnesota. In 1978, he traveled to Kenya, where he was based at Daystar University in Nairobi, working with local churches to provide veterinary and community development workshops in Kenya and surrounding east African countries. Dr. Wanous provided professional support and consulted with missionaries and Christian leaders via the Christian Veterinary Mission, Daystar University, and Literacy & Evangelism International, also visiting villages and helping improve the health of livestock.
Upon his return to the United States in the early 1980s, he resumed practice in Minnesota. Dr. Wanous continued to be active with the Christian Veterinary Mission and Daystar University and volunteered in local ministries well into retirement. He is survived by his wife, Bette; three daughters and two sons; 10 grandchildren; a great-grandchild, and a brother. Memorials may be made to the Christian Veterinary Mission, 19303 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98133, cvm.org.
DONALD C. WILSON
Dr. Wilson (Guelph ‘66), 79, Calgary, Alberta, died July 5, 2020. During his career, he practiced large animal medicine in Ontario for eight years, was involved in commercial embryo transfer for three years in Ontario, and worked in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry for almost 30 years, including at Bayer Inc. Dr. Wilson served on the board of directors of the Canadian Animal Health Institute and was a founding member of the Vintage Veterinary Exhibit Association. He is survived by a brother and a sister. Memorials may be made to the Vintage Veterinary Exhibit Association, Box 702, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada T4C-1A8, or OVC 1966 Legacy Scholarship, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road E., Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1.
Please report the death of a veterinarian promptly to the JAVMA News staff via a toll-free phone call at 800-248-2862, ext. 6754; email email@example.com; or fax at 847-925-9329. For an obituary to be published, JAVMA must be notified within six months of the date of death.