Michael Dicks announces retirement from post as AVMA econ chief
In an announcement during the AVMA’s Veterinary Economic Summit Oct. 23, Michael Dicks, PhD, announced that he would be retiring from his role as the association’s chief economist after the AVMA’s annual convention in July 2018.
“Believe it or not, I’m ready to rest and relax,” Dicks told summit attendees gathered for dinner in a Hilton ballroom in Chicago. “I’ve been working since I was 13, and I want to get up one day in my life and say, ‘I don’t have anything to do today.’”
Dicks joined the AVMA in 2013 as director of the association’s first Veterinary Economics Division. He set about hiring a team of economists with the goal of analyzing the veterinary markets, improving the economic environment for veterinarians and improving the performance of veterinary practices. To do that he needed a crash course in the profession—and the profession came through, he says.
“A lot of you have helped me, mentored me and provided me information,” Dicks said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with. It’s been an honor to lead this work, and I’m indebted to you for your friendship and your guidance and your trust.”
In the last five years Dicks and his team have conducted countless surveys, built a number of financial tools for veterinarians to use, published the AVMA Report on Veterinary Markets series, spoken at conferences and other industry events, and published a monthly column in dvm360 magazine and on dvm360.com, among other endeavors. Many of those efforts will continue under the direction of the current team.
“We have hired an incredible staff,” Dicks said, referring to his squad of PhD analysts, most of whom he hired straight out of grad school. “These people are some of the top economists I’ve ever worked with, and they’re still here. They’re the ones who do the work. I know what they’re capable of, and I know you can count on them.”
Dicks is excited about several projects that are just now coming to fruition, including the development of an economic modeling system that will allow the AVMA to predict the impact of specific changes on the profession, such as an increase in the supply of veterinarians entering the market every year. To help ensure that those efforts continue, Dicks will be assisting with the search for a new director of veterinary economics to take over when he retires in July.
“I believe we’re very close to having one of the best economic programs of any profession that I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “I want to make sure we continue on that path. And I believe the AVMA leadership and the VESC [Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee] are positioned to do that.”
The challenges the profession faces going forward are considerable, and they’re unprecedented in the veterinary field, Dicks says. Despite his efforts to remain a purely objective analyst, he has begun to take some of those challenges personally—especially the trend toward consolidation and the question of whether veterinarians, corporations or private equity will be the ones to direct the future of the profession.
“I’ve gotten so close to veterinarians that it’s difficult to be a non-biased economist,” he said. “I often wonder when I present results, who’s going to use those results? Are the right people going to use them? I’m here to help AVMA members and veterinarians. I’m really not here to help corporate America.”
Despite this, Dicks says he sometimes feels like he’s doing more for the people who are “trying to gobble up the profession” than for the profession itself. “It’s trying on me,” he says. “It’s time for someone to come in and take the baton and start the race the way I did—to put that energy in and leave everything on the field.”
Part of what Dicks has focused on more recently—and which he believes is important going into the future—is improving the financial literacy of individual veterinarians and their teams. This will help them better utilize the information provided by the Economics Division and other analysts and resources, he says.
“Many of the problems in the profession stem from financial illiteracy,” he says. “There’s so much out there for veterinarians, but they’re not using it. How do we get the information we’re providing into the hands of veterinarians—owners, managers and staff—so that better financial decisions can be made? That’s something we have to figure out moving forward.”
In his retirement Dicks plans to spend more time with his family, finish several books he’s been writing, and sail the open waters. “I’m actually waiting for a call right now because I put an offer on a boat,” he told summit attendees. “I am literally going to sail off into the next big adventure.
“I’m excited about what’s next for the profession, but I’m equally excited about what’s next for me,” he continued. “Some of you have heard me talk about blue ocean opportunities—this is truly a blue ocean opportunity for me. You know, I love people, but I love being away from them too. And more importantly, some of those people love being away from me!”
Dicks says he can walk away with pride knowing that he helped establish the AVMA’s first Veterinary Economics Division—and convincing his detractors that he really does want what’s best for veterinary medicine. “I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years,” he says. “Some relationships started off rocky, but when people took the time to figure out that I’m talking from data and analysis, and that I do want the best for the profession, we’ve formed a great relationship and moved forward.
“In this profession, I think there needs to be a lot more cooperation and a lot less focus on what’s wrong,” he continues. “There’s so much that’s great about the profession, and so many good people who have so much great information and data to share, that if we all collaborate we’ll get there a lot quicker.”
Dicks says he doesn’t like the word “legacy”—but he gets asked about it anyway. “I’m an educator and a farmer, and both have in common the planting of seeds,” he says. “Throughout my career as an educator, my sole goal was to change one person at a time, to plant a seed that I could watch develop over the years. And I hope I’ve done that here. I hope the seeds I’ve planted with the AVMA—the important seeds of economics and financial knowledge—will help each veterinarian reach the professional and personal goals they dreamed of when they began the long process of becoming a veterinarian.”