2010: Predictions for veterinary medicine

2010: Predictions for veterinary medicine

Workforce, economy, welfare rank as top issues this year, leaders predict

National Report — If veterinary leaders are correct, 2010 will be marked by great change. DVM Newsmagazine asked seven leaders in the veterinary market to offer predictions for the top issues facing veterinarians next year. From practice economics to pressures on agriculture, the issues are broad, but their influence on the profession remains critically important.

Watch workforce trends

Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), says he's focused on two issues for 2010 — education and workforce.

The two issues go hand-in-hand, he says, since increased capacity and efficiency at veterinary colleges are key to increasing the veterinary workforce.

A new consortium of leaders brainstorming a path for veterinary education could be a "major step relative to the future of veterinary education." The consortium, called the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC), has a series of nationwide discussions slated in 2010.

Changes to the current education model can't come too soon, DeHaven says, since some areas of the country are struggling to find enough veterinarians to meet the demand. Veterinary technicians will take on a greater role in many practices in 2010, he predicts, referencing a soon-to-be-published paper from the AVMA on the economics of technician use and a growing trend in that area.

Advocacy is part of the overall plan, especially with more public debate about animal-health issues like livestock housing, DeHaven says.

"There are more allowances for the public to make decisions, like with farm-animal welfare, and the AVMA is watching those," he says. "We're not convinced an uneducated public is best to make those decisions."

It's not business as usual

"Veterinarians will need to improve their business skills starting now," says Karen Felsted, DVM, CPA, MS, CVPM, CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.

The economic climate is far different than that of just a few years ago. The average number of transactions is flat or down, as are the numbers of new clients and active clients. And these trends started before the recession. "Even worse, we can't count on fee increases to fund our growth anymore. There was a time when we undercharged for what we did, and I'm sure some practices still are. But there have been unbelievable fee increases in the past five or six years: 30 percent or more in years where inflation was just 6 percent," Felsted says.

"Student debt will have a long-term impact, too. Younger veterinarians will need to work in practices where they can make enough money to pay those loans. A practice needs to be productive with a structure in place so young doctors can produce more.

"The silver lining of all this is that you're going to own and work in a much more profitable practice in the future. You'll increase the practice value, and when one of these downturns comes again, you'll be better prepared."

Taking a message to consumers

"Organizations like ours will need to provide a coaching and supportive role in terms of not only data, but also coping strategies and new ways to provide value to pet owners," says Dr. John Tait, president of the American Animal Hospital Association.

The association is airing commercials on Animal Planet this month during the Puppy Bowl, a program that runs simultaneously during the Super Bowl. So, what's the play? Encourage pet owners to see their veterinarian.

"Life balance is another big issue," he says. "We're getting our message out to students and new graduates with information on multi-owner practice models, managing debt out of school, and nontraditional career paths and how they affect a doctor's family life and lifestyle.