Rebekah Brown is a veterinarian from Melbourne, Australia. After graduating from Melbourne University, she worked in private and university practice for 5 years, including 6 months at The Ohio State University, Following an interest in technology-enhanced teaching and learning, she moved into creating computer-based teaching materials, which she has done for both DVM and VT students. She is passionate about playing an active role in the profession and its future directions.
As befits a conference themed ‘Into the Future’, the future of the veterinary industry and profession was front and centre at the 2013 Australian Veterinary Association conference held in Cairns, Queensland. Canadian Dr Jim Stowe, an 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 taken in Jim’s sessions, the conference proceedings, and Jim’s 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 current concerns for veterinary practices: (note all the lists below include only some of the points covered over the 8 sessions)
– rising unemployment within the profession due largely to the great increase in graduate numbers
– financial unsustainability of large animal practice
– fewer practice visits
– poor remuneration
– increasing corporate ownership of practices eg Greencross in Australia, Banfield in the US
– effects of global financial conditions
Predictions for the future of veterinary practice:
– The end of vaccines due to the development of personalised medicine
– Ratings of every veterinarian, every practice and every University – online
– Retail and pharmacy vanish from practice shelves due to online retailing
– Practice resale value becoming worthless
– Decline in the number of pets due to an aging population and a continued decline in large animal practice due to the corporatisation of farms.
– Pet insurance rates either soar or completely fall by the wayside.
Ideas for positive change to current veterinary practice:
- Create collegiality and cooperation with relevant health professionals eg if dog and owner overweight, can we combine with nutritionist to help both?
- Group appointments for patients and clients with the same condition – creates a community who help and support one another.
- Web based medicine. After starting with in-clinic group appointments, bring those clients into an online world where we can keep in touch with everyone.
- Updating marketing to include practice website, blog and social media eg Facebook, Twitter.
- Change the current model of corporatization of veterinary clinics by creating a system of central hospitals staffed by specialists which are fed by smaller outpatient clinics. Practitioners should own the outpatient clinics and be shareholders in the central hospital, which is owned by a corporate group. This allows the practitioner to manage their clinic as they wish and decrease duplication and cost of infrastructure.
Recommendations for the future of the veterinary profession, including changes to veterinary education:
- 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. With approximately 25% of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans being of animal origin and thousands of cases each year of food-borne diseases, there is clearly an important role for veterinarians to play.
- Ideally, decrease the number of veterinary graduates (although Jim admitted this is highly unlikely and seems even more so after the announcement of 2 new veterinary schools in the US.)
- Introduce streaming in veterinary education for specific streams of graduates in the fields of: companion animal general practice; companion animal specialties; agribusiness (large animal vet); integrated medicine (public health); ecosystem management; equine practice; wildlife practice); fisheries; legal and governance related medicine; avian medicine and avian food systems; and veterinary business management. This change would support the broadening of the profession and providing much clearer pathways for graduates to move into non-clinical positions within the profession.
- Decrease the number of 1-2 veterinarian clinics to a model more similar to human medicine with larger numbers of veterinarians working in animal medical centres.
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.
Create a Social Media dialogue on this issue to get feedback from the rest of the profession and to connect those with resources.