Shrinking caseload ignites $5 million initiative
Schaumburg, Ill. — The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) committed $5 million toward a new campaign to improve the economics of the veterinary profession.
"The impetus behind it certainly has been what we've all been hearing and reading about what's been going on in the profession," says Dr. Theodore J. Cohn, a partner at University Hills Animal Hospital in Denver and chair of the AVMA Executive Board. "Indeed there is a real situation and problem as far as the economics of the profession."
Discussions about business trends in the veterinary profession are nothing new for the Executive Board, but talks ramped up in April when the Economic Vision Steering Committee, chaired by Cohn, was formed. By August, the Executive Board had the start of a plan.Over the next five years, the Executive Board will put $5 million into the Strategic Economics Initiative. The initiative will include establishing a Veterinary Economic Strategy Committee to advise the Executive Board on economic strategies. The open-nomination committee is meant to include veterinarians as well as leaders in business and economics, Cohn says.
The initiative will also support the creation of a new Veterinary Economics Division within AVMA, allow the Economic Vision Steering Committee to continue to provide guidance on economic strategies, and include the development of an economics communication strategy that will circulate new information and resources throughout the profession.
"There's not any one thing (the Executive Board) expects to come from it. The overall goal is to certainly improve the financial viability of the profession," Cohn says. "There are so many different things that are happening, so many different challenges we're facing, and we've got to start somewhere. This is the first step down that road."
AVMA has long heard about problems with rising education costs and student debt, coupled with decreasing visits, inadequate salaries and poor client compliance. The problem won't be solved overnight, or maybe not even in a year or two, cautions AVMA President René A. Carlson.
"It was very obvious the economy was stressing everybody out. It's been talked about for as long as 30 years," Carlson says. "It's a number of things that brought it to the forefront ... How can we begin to address this huge elephant in the room?"
Presently, it's a challenge to view veterinary medicine as a financially rewarding profession, Carlson says. She worries about a new generation of veterinarians saddled by debt before a solution can be found.
"We have the best education system in the world, hands-down. However, I don't think the current cost of the education and our education models can be sustained," Carlson says. "We just have to really start being much more visible about what we do and start looking at job opportunities for veterinarians that are outside the traditional model of companion-animal practice.
"As president of AVMA, this is one of the reasons I really wanted to be involved at this particular time," she adds. "I am almost fearful for the profession, and society, if we don't get this taken care of ... I think our members are ready to invest the finances to really give this a lot of attention."
The initiative will first support the Executive Board's efforts to study the issues, according to Cohn. Questions to be answered include: Is there really a workforce imbalance? What are the causes? What is keeping clients away from practices? What drives clients to a particular practice?
The initiative will reach out to organizations and experts to form partnerships and try to involve the entire profession by launching focus groups and collaborative summits across the country over the next year, he says.
"This is an economic strategy that I think is important to the entire profession, not just AVMA," Cohn says.