Economics, academics and welfare: DVMs face changes

Profession continues its evolution, remains strong
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May 01, 2009


MONEY MATTERS: The future of the veterinary profession is intertwined with the economy in more ways than one. Federal taxes for health-care programs and deficit spending mean less money available for student-loan repayment and work-force shortage programs.
NATIONAL REPORT — With a floundering economy, changes in small-business practices and ever-evolving social consciousness, the veterinary profession, like most, is in a state of uncertainty.

Numerous challenges will present themselves in terms of financing education and work-force initiatives in the next few years, according to veterinary experts.

Business, academia, animal welfare and food-animal medicine are a few of the many areas leaders in the profession are watching.

Business

"This year or next, there is going to be some type of health-care reform," says Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Government Relations Division (GRD).

"It will definitely impact our members who are small-business owners. How it will impact them is unknown."

In addition to health-care reform, President Obama's plan to cut the deficit in half will leave its mark.

"It means more taxes or cuts in revenue," Lutschaunig says. "Changes in taxes impact our members individually and small business collectively."

Revenue cuts mean less money for government-funded initiatives, such as student-loan repayment and work-force shortages.

"Schools are not graduating enough veterinarians, and they are at capacity; and then there is student debt," Lutschaunig says. "Right now, I don't think that's going to change. If anything, it's going to continue to rise. Veterinary schools have to figure out how to educate students in different ways."

And they are, according to Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou. executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).

Academia

"Colleges are looking at whatever they can do to reduce the cost of education," she says. "Distance learning, virtual learning, sharing faculty are all being explored right now."

Another challenge is finding faculty with the expertise in specific areas to educate tomorrow's veterinary students.

Often these potential professors open up their own specialty practices, where salaries are much higher.

"What we are looking at now is some colleges hooking up with specialty hospitals and whether some of these specialists are interested in doing clinical rotation or becoming faculty at universities."

One such example of a successful pairing is the newly opened Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Although funding shortages for state-run veterinary schools are nothing new, the circumstances are becoming more strained.

"Our colleges are seeing cuts in budgets anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent," Pappaioanou says.

"Some are being asked to find millions of dollars to give back to the university. There are freezes on hirings, furloughs and they have been cutting staff. In that backdrop, it's very difficult to say what is going to happen."

In addition to business ownership and education, the recession also will have an impact on other areas of veterinary medicine, such as animal welfare.