Dean's Update - June 2013
Dear CVM Community and Friends,
It’s been a busy spring and this message is overdue, so let me update you on events. Most importantly, we graduated our 29th DVM class in early May. There was a wide mix of interests amongst the 59 women and 13 men who took the oath on May 10th, their focus areas included 22 in small animal, 11 in food animal, 8 in equine, 6 in laboratory animal, 6 in small animal avian and exotic, 5 mixed practiced, 5 pathology, 4 zoological medicine, 3 epidemiology and public health, and 2 in clinical science. The hooding honors were performed by Drs. Don Meuten and Mat Gerard, and the new Dr. Justin Jornigan delivered an outstanding speech on behalf of his classmates, with Dr. Lysa Posner delivering a sage response on behalf of the faculty. We had a full house, with many hundreds of parents, spouses, partners, friends and supporters in the audience. I’d like to particularly thank Dr. Scotty Gibbs & Ms. Claire Holley who attended on behalf of the NCVMA, and Ms. Kathe Garrison and Ms. Sandy Alford representing the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Foundation.
During recent weeks, I had a chance to meet with Commissioner Steve Troxler of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (NCDA&CS), and hear his thoughts on the role of veterinarians within his own organization and throughout the state. The NCDA&CS is one of the biggest employers of DVMs within North Carolina, and represent an important opportunity for our graduates to become involved in agriculture and public health. I also spent most of a day “seeing practice” when I shadowed Dr. Joe Gordon at the small animal CareFirst clinic on Oberlin Road, Raleigh. Dr. Gordon emphasized the importance that I get out and about in the state and repeat the experience, and I’m planning on doing just that. Back at the College, we began the installation process of our new linear accelerator, which promises to revolutionize what we can offer in terms of radiation therapy. It will be a few weeks yet before our new radiation oncology faculty team of Dr. Tracy Geiger and Dr. Mike Nolan can put the unit in action, but it's a great example of the impact of fund raising. The most important donors to this unit were Dean and Marilyn Green of Greensboro and the Terry Foundation. Without their vision and commitment, innovations like this wouldn’t happen.
Open House 2013
Another highlight in the College year is our annual Open House, which fell on Saturday, April 27th. This year’s event was a real success and is a great opportunity to show the North Carolina public who we are and what we do. It’s also a great chance for visitors to interact with animals they may not come in contact with on a day-to-day basis: from milking a cow to learning more about native animals such as turtles. Visitors that day also learned about caring for a wide variety of animals as well as volunteer opportunities at local rescue shelters. We once again strived to emphasize the theme of One Health, an important objective for our college, with participation by NC One Health Collaborative. The event was excellently organized by the Open House committee, chaired this year by Dr. Rita Hanel. We had nearly 69 additional volunteer helpers from across campus and beyond, and there were 28 booths in the Hearth representing rescue, breed and other animal organizations. This event gains popularity every year and is highly anticipated by the community, so we look forward to seeing it grow over the years ahead.
Changing of the guard
There are three other big changes at the College that I want to highlight. First, is the retirement of one of our most important and influential staff members, Ms. Phyllis Edwards. We’ve enjoyed 22 years of Phyllis’ excellent work for the College, and our DVM graduates in particular will remember her as their advocate, partner and sometime counselor. At Phyllis’ retirement reception on Friday, May 31st, there was an excellent turnout of faculty and staff colleagues and current and former students. It was a mark of respect that all three former Deans of the College, including Provost Warwick Arden, were in attendance. When we opened up the floor for tributes, there was a consistent theme acknowledging her devotion to and passion for the students. I’ve included a few pictures of the festivities below.
The second change is also on the education front, and it is Dr. Keven Flammer’s appointment earlier this year as the Associate Dean and Director, Academic Affairs. Dr. Flammer is a passionate advocate for our students and for giving them the best education possible. His leadership has been critical in advancing our agenda of curricular change to achieve that goal, and the changes we will see over the next several years.
The third transition is Dr. Malcolm Robert’s announcement that he plans to step down from the position of Head of the Department of Population Health and Pathobiology. The Department and the College owe him a big debt of gratitude for his strong and balanced leadership during a very trying period in recent years. Happily, Dr. Roberts will be returning to the faculty, and will focus his new efforts on teaching innovation in our new curriculum. The College will conduct an international search for Dr. Roberts’ successor in the near future and Dr. David Bristol has agreed to lead it.
Veterinary Workforce Study
The AVMA recently released its 2013 US Veterinary Workforce Study Final Report. The study is a substantial step forward towards estimating the current and future supply of and demand for veterinarians and veterinary services. The full report is 98 pages long, but it was well summarized in an executive summary in the June 1st edition of JAVMA. The leading headline of the study is that there is an excess capacity of veterinary services in the U.S. Specifically, the study indicates that the U.S. “supply” of veterinarians in 2012 was 90,200 and that the supply exceeded the demand for veterinary services by about 11,250 full-time equivalent veterinarians. This represents a 12.5% level of excess capacity, although it varied by practice type (e.g. 23% equine, 18% small animal, 15% food animal, 13% mixed animal practice) and location. However, there are two key things that need emphasizing in order to interpret this study. First, unemployment among veterinarians is actually very low – estimated at less than 2%. What this study says is there is underemployment, or that a substantial number of veterinarians believe they could be working more if the opportunity was there. This raises the second issue; the report arrived at its figures based on the opinions of veterinarians who were part of a survey. The amount of underemployment reported was their opinion rather than something that a scientist measured with a stopwatch. In all fairness the report and the JAVMA articles emphasize this point clearly, recognizing a potential limitation. However, while the precision of the study may not be perfect, it supports the finding of the “Workforce Needs in Veterinary Medicine” report of May 2012, from the National Research Council for the National Academy of Sciences which I discussed in a previous message last July. Although, the Workforce Study used new and powerful analytic techniques, major data gaps still exist. The AVMA Workforce Advisory Group identified eleven implications of the study and developed recommendations for future action. Many of the implications are relevant to the College as we strategically plan for the future.
Prospects for new graduates
The Workforce Study points out that while our unemployment rates are low; the number of veterinary students graduating and entering the workforce is increasing faster than the number of veterinarians leaving. The net growth in the number of veterinarians is not being matched by the growth in demand for their services, or if it is then only barely. Hence the concerns of many AVMA members about the increases in class size, and the opening of new veterinary colleges. North Carolina is part of this picture, not only are our graduates competing in a more crowded marketplace, but we have also increased our class size, adding 20 places each year for in-state entrants. I have discussed our enrollment increase and the case for increasing class size at NC State in a previous message. The strongest argument is that we can provide the best and, importantly, by far the most cost effective education for North Carolina DVM students. Nevertheless, we will have to work harder in the future to ensure these candidates are prepared to be the top competitors in the job market, and to ensure they are equipped for all the opportunities open to them.
Before the seniors graduate, many of them find time to join me for group exit interviews during clinic breaks. This year I asked specifically about how hard it was to find jobs, and while the majority had accepted positions, it was clear that for some there was still uncertainty. We expect all our graduates to find work, but it seems likely that they will need to look harder and perhaps further afield than in years past. Our graduates also have to prepare for loan repayments. While this burden is lower for NC State DVM graduates than others, it is still very significant. It was therefore interesting to read a paper entitled, “Financial Dimensions of Veterinary Medical Education: An Economist’s Perspective”, by the well-known veterinary economist Dr. Jim Lloyd in the current edition of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. Dr. Lloyd was recently appointed as the new Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. Dr. Lloyd discusses the trend towards increasing debts, but offers some reassurance through his analysis of employment and income trends, and loan repayment options. It's an insightful article, and I recommend it to you. One of the most important conclusions that Dr. Lloyd reaches is that the veterinary medical applicant pool is resilient despite the current anxieties about debt load and underemployment. While we should not discount these factors, we also need to remember that the profession offers a huge range of diverse opportunities and many different rewarding career options. The profession needs to fight to keep debt down, and we also need to work to increase the number of impactful ways that veterinary medicine can serve society and create opportunities for our graduates. This has always been a difficult balance and remains so today.
As the College looks forward to the next academic year it also needs to prepare for AVMA accreditation, a process we engage in every seven years. We’ll submit our self-study report later this year, and welcome the site visit team here in March 2014. So, expect a new coat of paint on anything that is not moving!
All the best,
D. Paul Lunn
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