Veterinary education in the future?

Jim_StoweThe future of the veterinary industry and profession was front and centre at AVA 2013, as befits a conference themed ‘Into the Future’. Jim Stowe, an international invited speaker, wrote about the future of the veterinary profession in the Canadian Veterinary Journal 15 years ago and clearly to an extent the more things change the more they stay the same. Since that time Jim has remained passionate about the profession and a deep thinker about its future. On this basis I was very interested in his views on the current position and future of the veterinary industry. Although I don’t concur with all of his comments, one of his recommendations I thoroughly support is that we need to start a dialogue within the profession about its future course. This post is my attempt to contribute to that discussion. All ideas below are taken from my notes from Jim’s sessions, the conference proceedings and the slide decks.

‘The veterinary dilemma: Picture a leaking life raft surrounded by sharks; too many in the

boat, too little food to survive. Is this our future – or present?’

Major concerns:

–          excessive number of veterinary graduates

–          too few graduates going into public health, ecosystem health and food security

–          student debt

–          gender imbalance of graduates

–          rising unemployment within the profession

–          financial unsustainability of large animal practice

–          fewer practice visits

–          poor remuneration

–          increasing corporate ownership of practices eg Greencross

–          effects of global financial conditions

Ideas for positive change to current veterinary practice: (There were many of these. I’ve only noted those I thought had relevance to veterinary educators and teaching hospitals.)

  1. Create collegiality and cooperation with relevant health professionals eg if dog and owner overweight, can we combine with nutritionist to help both? Can we start this with some cross-professional training with medical/physiotherapy/diatetics students?
  1. Group appointments for patients and clients with the same condition – creates a community who help and support one another.
  1. Web based medicine. After starting with in-clinic group appointments, bring those clients into an online world were we could keep in touch with everyone.
  1. Updating marketing to include practice website, blog and social media eg Facebook, Twitter. While students are probably well familiar with many of these platforms, writing skills and digital literacy are important and need to be addressed during training. Students need to understand from first entry into veterinary school that anything they post anywhere on the Internet could come back to haunt them in the future.

Recommendations for the future of the veterinary profession and implications for veterinary education:

  1. Broaden the image of the profession from the current perception of pet doctors by moving into wider roles including public, animal and ecosystem health, collaborative medical studies, clinical epidemiology, food production and food safety.
  1. Ideally close 4 veterinary schools in Australia (although he admits this is extremely unlikely to happen).
  1. The 7 veterinary schools in Australia should operate under one umbrella to determine centres of education for specific streams of graduates in the fields of companion animal general practice; companion animal specialties; agribusiness (what used to be called the large animal vet); integrated medicine (human and animal health – what used to be ‘zoonotic diseases’); ecosystem management (health of all species and management of the ecosystem infrastructure – what used to be called ‘public health’); equine practice; wildlife practice (a newer and better ‘zoo vet’); fisheries; legal and governance related medicine (what could loosely have been animal welfare); avian medicine and avian food systems (what used to be the poultry vet); and veterinary business management.
  1. Start with the foundation of three years of comparative science, agrology and environmental studies, most likely studied mostly online through a digital university, and then add 2-3 years for a specific streamed career but then create online/ university credits in each stream to keep the veterinary scientist abreast of current understanding. A lifetime career might include 3 University credits per year to maintain licensure in the chosen discipline. To make the veterinary scientist most effective in whatever stream chosen, make business education integral to each and every stream.

Jim’s prediction: The veterinary profession as we know it will not exist twenty years from now. It will either degenerate into a relatively unprofessional cheap service for pet owners as a cute cottage industry or it will become a varied and enviable profession dedicated to the care of every animal species on the planet.

Action plan:

Create a Social Media Dialogue on this issue to get feedback from the rest of the profession and to connect those with resources.


About rebekahmcbrown

I am a veterinarian with a special interest in instructional design and developing eLearning in the veterinary and medical areas. I write teaching materials for both face-to-face and online learning as well as writing and editing articles.
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4 Responses to Veterinary education in the future?

  1. Anne Fawcett says:

    Thanks Rebecca for this summary…I wonder how Universities can take a leadership role in this situation? Tim White has done a lot of work to keep the discussion about the sustainability about the profession going. I think whatever happens we need to keep animal welfare at the forefront of our priorities.

    • Thank you very much for your comment Anne. Unfortunately the universities are under such financial pressure they continue to increase student numbers in the face of evidence that there are too many graduates. Perhaps the greatest lead they could take is begin discussions of how curriculum.streams could be implemented across the different institutions.

  2. Futurevet says:

    Great blog update Rebekah! Streaming or tracking of vet degrees into mixed, smallies or research seems like a great option, similar to Engineering disciplines.
    With the large debt and low salaries of vets it would seem beneficial if vet degrees could be reduced so that students could graduate within 4 years of finishing high school to improve the return on investment and get them learning in the real employment world sooner.
    The rising underemployment of new graduates is quite concerning.

  3. Thank you for joining the conversation Futurevet. Reducing the debt burden would have a huge financial advantage for new graduates. There needs to be a broadening of veterinary training beyond the basic science years and streaming seems a logical way to achieve it.

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