May 01, 2007

Nearly 100 veterinarians participated in discussions over the last two years, says retired University of Georgia Dean Keith Prasse, an architect of a project designed to help steer veterinary education into the future.
NATIONAL REPORT — Governments have fallen, diseases conquered and new technologies have changed the face of medicine.

A lot happens in 25 years.

For veterinary medicine, there's one constant, according to a new report sponsored by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC): "The single characteristic that distinguishes veterinarians, in every role they play, is their unique relationship with animals, operating at the interface between society and animals."

It's a big thought that will remain the cornerstone for this profession for the next quarter of a century and beyond.

Veterinary education's "Foresight Report" seeks to offer a series of ideas for academia to design a system that will be able to react and meet major changes almost certain in the next 25 years, says Dr. Keith Prasse, retired dean of the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine, who was considered one of the architects in the 2006 Foresight Project commissioned by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and authored by the Ottawa-based consulting firm Norm Willis Group. Ultimately, this broad-based project brought together 95 professionals and propagated 45 professional recommendations designed for grist in strategic planning for academia.

"You cannot predict the future," Prasse explains in an interview with DVM Newsmagazine, "but you can create a system that will effectively and efficiently respond to changes as they are needed. How are we going to come up with a curriculum that is flexible enough to rapidly adapt to changing societal needs?"

Expansion of species tracking within veterinary curricula led the list, Prasse says, and the result may signal a need to overhaul state board licensing and examinations, a far more controversial proposition. The report calls for limited licensure or a new system of flexible licensure, and encourages state licensing boards to pick up the conversation.

Fast Fact
Veterinary medical education must change, the report concludes. "A decision to broaden the scope and potential of veterinary medical education is fundamental for the profession to navigate this transition."

Species tracking within veterinary education is an idea that took a foothold in academia in the late 1980s. This report calls for its widespread expansion. The idea, Prasse explains, is to offer veterinary students more in-depth education in the areas they have chosen to pursue, like companion-animal medicine or public health. The vision is that during the last 18 months of study, a veterinary student would be immersed in the student's chosen area of focus. "The other beauty is that over time schools can make adaptations to the curriculum to accommodate what the hiring community needs," he reports.

Simultaneously, veterinary education needs to branch out. Even though 80 percent of veterinary graduates are entering companion-animal practice today, the report cited 10 other pathways for professional focus, including food-production animals, foreign-animal disease, non-traditional animals, species specialists, public health, aquatic animals, zoo animals, wildlife, laboratory animals and regulatory veterinary medicine.

Veterinary education's reach needs to extend even further when you look at areas of application, including business, crisis management, research diagnostics, teaching, allied fields and discipline specialties.