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Reference Desk May 2012

National Research Council Releases New Report on Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine

    Study affirms the changing role of veterinary medicine, need for the profession to evolve

    WASHINGTON, DC, May 30, 2012—What does the future hold for veterinary medicine?  Are colleges of veterinary medicine (CVMs) preparing students to meet society's changing needs? And if needs are changing, how can academic veterinary medicine respond? To answer those questions, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) requested the help of the National Academy of Sciences in conducting a study on "Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine." The study sought to assess not only current workforce estimates, but also the unmet needs that the profession must address in order to remain relevant to society.

    Today, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies released its findings. The report concludes that there are sectors of unmet need for veterinarians, but the researchers found little evidence of widespread workforce shortages at the current time. The study did find an imbalance in the distribution of veterinarians, and expressed concern about the state of the veterinary workforce in critical areas of veterinary medicine, such as the public sector. In addition to assessing the current state of the veterinary medical workforce, the study makes projections on future needs across all sectors, and recommendations for meeting those needs. For example, the report identified a tremendous need for veterinarians to become involved in food and water security and safety.

    "The veterinary workforce of today may bear little resemblance to the one 10-15 years from now," said Dr. Andrew Maccabe, the AAVMC's executive director. "As the population increases and veterinary medicine evolves, we expect that veterinarians will fill more roles in a broad range of careers not typically linked in the public's mind with veterinary medicine, including bioterrorism and emergency preparedness, environmental health, food safety and security, food production systems, regulatory medicine, diagnostic laboratory medicine, biomedical research, health promotion and disease prevention, public health research, and epidemiology. Veterinarians are already working in these critical areas, but the need for veterinary expertise in nontraditional areas is increasing."

    The report, which contains five main conclusions and 10 recommendations, took into account not only the medical role of veterinarians but also the profession's responsibility to protect and improve the health of animals, people, and the ecosystem.  The term "One Health" is often used to refer to an approach that incorporates all three perspectives. Recommendations in the report included the development of a "One Health" think tank, greater use of technology and resource sharing, more flexible educational models, and more partnerships between academe and industry.

    "Veterinarians possess the cross-species expertise required to address some of the world's most pressing problems from a comprehensive, comparative perspective," said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, the AAVMC's president and dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. "Academic veterinary medicine has a key role to play in training the next generation of veterinarians to apply One Health solutions to a range of challenging problems that require an integrated approach." 

    The committee found troubling trends in the public sector veterinary workforce. "Longstanding job vacancies, a looming wave of retirements, declining programmatic support for animal research, and reports of too few positions in key agencies raise questions about the ability of the government to achieve its missions to ensure food safety and prevent and respond to infectious diseases of animals and humans," said the report.

    In order to prepare graduates who can meet society's evolving need for veterinary expertise, schools and colleges of veterinary medicine have already begun implementing many of the study's suggestions, which align with recommendations from the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium's (NAVMEC's) "Roadmap for Veterinary Medical Education in the 21st Century: Responsive, Collaborative, Flexible," a report specific to academic veterinary medicine that the AAVMC spear-headed and released in 2011. The NAVMEC report also called for resource sharing, greater use of technology, the development of centers of emphasis or excellence, a focus on One Health, and the development of graduates with a broader range of skills and competencies.

    The NRC report also warned that veterinary medical education in its current form is unsustainable due to a decade-long decline in funding for education and research, and increasing student debt load relative to income. "The continued loss of funding from public sources for the public good is adversely affecting the ability of veterinary medical colleges to prepare graduates who will meet growing global needs for infectious disease control, protect people from food borne and zoonotic (animal to human) diseases, and ensure environmental quality in cost-effective ways," said the AAVMC's Dr. Maccabe. "The AAVMC is committed to proactively working with our members and partners to address these challenges and we will continue to advocate for more public and private support for veterinary medical education."

    The study was sponsored by the AAVMC, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Bayer Animal Health, the American Animal Hospital Association, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

    The report is available for download at: www.nap.edu.

    About AAVMC
    The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) is a non-profit membership organization working to protect and improve the health and welfare of animals, people and the environment by advancing academic veterinary medicine. Its members include all 33 veterinary medical colleges in the United States and Canada, nine departments of veterinary science, eight departments of comparative medicine, 12 international colleges of veterinary medicine, and three affiliate members.  On the Web:  http://www.aavmc.org

    Source: Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges

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