Task force looks to manpower study

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Task force looks to manpower study

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May 01, 2003

Cleveland-A task force, made up of leaders from food animal medicine groups, are finishing up a "request for proposal" to study the shortage of food animal veterinarians.

Dr. Rod Sydenham, past-president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) who is actively involved with the task force, tells DVM Newsmagazine, the Food Animal Summit Taskforce (FAST) was created to study and then find tools and programs that will assist in addressing the shortage of practitioners nationwide.

One goal of FAST is to understand why fewer veterinary students are opting for food animal practice, make changes and create tools to ease the shortage. Another important area to investigate further is retention of food animal veterinarians in private practice, as well as academia, research and government.

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of AASV, says that the group does not want to create another study that collects dust, moreover they want to improve the situation for the betterment of society.

The request for proposal is slated for completion in early May. Organizations that specialize in conducting independent, demographic/market-based studies will next bid on the project, Sydenham explains.

Once the project coordinator is identified and gets under way, Sydenham hopes that results from this study may become available as early as next year.

FAST is represented by all of the major food animal specialty groups including AABP, American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), Academy of Veterinary Consultants, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, the American Association of Avian Pathologists and the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues and AVMA. The study will look at factors affecting the applicant pool, recruitment and training into food animal medicine, and retention in food animal practice.

Under the microscope

Once data is compiled it will give the group an overall assessment in developing strategies designed at recruiting, training and retaining veterinarians in food animal practice. "We want to affect change in this area," he explains.

"There is a struggle for mixed and food animal practitioners to find long-term, full-time people to come and work for them. It is a problem not only in the United States and Canada, but many parts of the developed world as well, including Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe."

Burkgren says that recruiting and retention of food animal veterinarians is going to be a major issue for the future.

Swine veterinarians are faced with larger and larger agricultural systems, which is putting stress on veterinarians to fill the demand. One fact is certain, if there is a need, agriculture will find a way to fill it. FAST wants it to be veterinary medicine.

"There is a real sense among our leadership that there are certain jobs that veterinarians currently do that other professionals, non-DVMs, could take over. We are seeing that happen with some of the bigger systems," Burkgren explains. "You have to understand that the biggest system in the United States has more than 700,000 sows and probably less than 10 veterinarians. That's one veterinarian to 70,000 sows. You can't even see that many sows in a year's time. We need more veterinarians," he adds.

FAST was created as a mechanism for the groups to get together to talk about what each group was doing. It was formed as a planning group, Sydenham explains, but has evolved since its initial meeting in late 2001.

The group is now poised to collect facts on a significant issue facing veterinary medicine - succession.

A lot at stake

In the next few years, additional pressure is going to be placed on food animal veterinary medicine. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that it will need 584 food animal veterinarians in that time, not counting attrition. If USDA took five people from each school, it would barely meet their needs, and it is about equal to the number of food animal veterinarians graduating.

Sydenham adds, "So, this is an urgency. FAST's main concern is to continue the supply of safe and wholesome animal products. The population that is looking after the supply now is aging and there will come a time when they retire. We want to make sure there is a continuation of this service. Veterinary medicine is the profession that is best placed to ensure the continuation of the supply of safe and wholesome food animal products."