Blog: Will fewer veterinarians usher in a rosy economic future?

Blog: Will fewer veterinarians usher in a rosy economic future?

In his last blog of the series, Cushing addresses the COE critics' rationale and digs deeper into what he believes is the real issue.
Nov 17, 2014


Two weeks ago I challenged the underlying argument relied upon by critics of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Council on Education (COE) to urge the U.S. Department of Education to abolish the COE. They want to fashion a new federally sanctioned agency to oversee veterinary education in America. For change of this magnitude, which would affect all future generations of veterinary students in our country, one would expect a few questions to be asked about their rationale, right? So let’s have a look.

First, they resent the label of elitists but all the while cite their enthusiastic support for the theoretician of their argument, former Pennsylvania Dean Robert Marshak, DVM. This argument is founded on the canard that only traditional veterinary schools, with teaching hospitals and large research faculty, are capable of training quality veterinarians. Innovative schools like Western University with no teaching hospital and deploying a distributive clinical model are derided as substandard. My friends, that is the essence of elitism. One model on top of the mountain fits the bill, and everything else below is a dangerous threat to our standards.

Second, they attack the COE for alleged “inconsistency” and “lack of transparency,” yet they do not provide concrete facts or examples of these failings. We are left with generic criticism, as if the mere pronouncement of these charges proved their validity. Public policy argument doesn’t work that way. The rough and tumble of policy debate, especially when it involves the federal government dictating a wholesale change in how an important sector of higher education and healthcare manages its training, demands more than broad generalizations.

Third, the closest these critics come to specifics is to challenge Western University’s distributive model, and the COE by implication, because it dared to accredit an alternative model of clinical training. If their charges are well-founded, then I challenge the critics to produce evidence that veterinarians graduating from distributive-based schools are practicing substandard medicine and threatening the quality of pet healthcare in America. No such evidence exists, so none was provided. We’re left with sweeping charges.

Fourth, it appears that the COE critics’ issue with my blogs is that I have clients involved in past accreditation decisions and somehow I’ve hidden this from the public. Wrong again. At the bottom of each blog published by dvm360 (for which I’m not paid anything), there is a link provided to my website: A quick look at this website provides a list of my clients. I don’t hide these affiliations, and in fact I make them clear whenever I debate at veterinary gatherings.

The real issue is that a minority of veterinarians believe that all economic issues will be solved if we shrink the number of veterinarians allowed to practice in the United States. Shrink supply, and prices can rise, presumably increasing veterinary incomes. The problem is that the pet-owning public will not be impressed or fooled by any organized effort to reduce the number of schools and graduates as an attempt to improve pet healthcare. It reeks of competitive protectionism and makes no sense at a time when half of American pet owners already don’t seek regular veterinary care and we stand at the cusp of a 100 million-person growth in America’s population. This human population growth surely means more pets needing care—and our answer is to shrink supply?

The COE works hard and fairly in applying the 11 standards of accreditation. This body of volunteers does not deserve the attacks it receives, but to the COE’s credit, it has continued to improve and refine its processes and respond to the questions raised by the Department of Education. Hats off to them for hanging in there under fire. That’s the stuff of good leadership and good policy. Let’s hope the December 11 federal hearing allows the full picture to be presented.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement. The views and opinions presented are those of the author.

Fewer Vets

What a ridiculous article! If someone is going to jam veterinarian's for their opinion of the future of our profession let's at least ask them to be a veterinarian. Thank you very much.

When is the "100 million " coming? We have a problem now and it has nothing to do with supply and demand. There ARE too many veterinarians out there NOW and waiting 50 years for your 100 million isn't going to fix anything NOW. There is also the nasty fact that since the 1970's incomes have been flat or declining in America and wealth has been moving out of the hands of moat of our population. Your 100 million are not going to be like 100 million were 50 years ago. They are going to be cash strapped 99%'ers that will likely shun pet ownership as an extravagance. The AVMA's latest survey data shows a decline in dog and a large decline in cat ownership since 2005. The upbeat numbers come from the Pet Products Industry but as a vet ill stick with the AVMA. In any case...just going with rosy numbers is reckless and as we say here in the USA the proof is in the pudding. Veterinary incomes are down. That's the pudding.

So can we talk? You laud the "distributive model" like a politician hocking the latest talking point. What does "distributive model" mean? It means all over the place. It means Western doesn't have a teaching hospital so it farms out the critical clinical portion of it's students education to hospitals all over the place. There is no central location for clinical practice under the direct supervision of University professional staff. Its done by sending kids all over the place ( distributing is the euphemism used ) to private institutions as in Veterinary Hospitals.

There is no reason to believe it is going to produce veterinarians of equal standard to those educated in a more conventional fashion. It might but Mr. Cushing has no more support for his praise of the "all over the place" model than he does dismissal of the conventional one.

Western was NOT needed and lacked the physical facility to match the nation's other Vet Schools. It's 'a vet school on the cheap'. We don't need it now. as in NOW. Maybe in 50 years when your 100 million arrive ( and I would not bet on that ) but not NOW.