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Banfield summit tackles companion animal research, veterinarians' well-being


Industry leaders gather to brainstorm solutions to profession's top challenges.

Portland, Ore.—More than 100 hand-picked leaders from veterinary industry, practice, academia and nonprofit work convened here in August for the 11th annual Pet Healthcare Industry Summit hosted by Banfield Pet Hospital. Their goal? To discuss two major problems plaguing the veterinary profession as identified by Banfield: the underfunding of companion animal research and the health and well-being of veterinarians.

To kick off the research discussion, Banfield Chief Medical Officer Jeffrey Klausner, DVM, MS, DACVIM, painted a picture of a dark, empty North American Veterinary Conference in 2050. “Imagine showing up in Orlando and there’s nothing to talk about because nothing new has been discovered to benefit pet health,” he says. “That’s what we’re facing if this decline in scientific research continues.”

In its two annual State of Pet Health Reports, released in 2011 and 2012, Banfield mined its extensive database of pet medical records to chronicle an increase in both prevalent diseases, such as periodontal disease and otitis externa, and chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and arthritis, over the last five years. “We know pets are getting sicker, but we don’t know why,” Klausner says. “We need research to help us find the answers.”

Speaker Garry Adams, DVM, PhD, DACVP, professor at Texas A&M University, noted that most of the animal health research that receives funding is targeted primarily toward improving human health. “We get the crumbs that fall off the table of human health research,” he says. “This marginal funding discourages bright young investigators from pursuing companion animal health projects.”

Adams calculates that presently there’s $20 million available for companion animal research (as opposed to $171 million for human health research using comparative animal models). For that number to increase, Adams says, a strong alliance needs to be formed among entities from corporate industry (both nutrition and animal health companies), academic institutions, private foundations, groups of pet owners, and state and government agencies.

“I suggest a target of $100 million a year,” Adams says. “That’s a realistic expectation for greatly enhanced companion animal research health research initiative in the coming years.”

In addition to Adams, other speakers who addressed the state of pet health research included:

• Wayne Jensen, DVM, PhD, MBA, chief scientific officer of the Morris Animal Foundation, who showed that when the total amount of research funding available for pets is divided by the total number of dogs, cats and horses in the United States, it equals $3.64 per animal—as opposed to $318.35 for each person.

• Mike Cathey, executive director of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, who called for the use of fund-raising terminology that would resonate with pet owners in a familiar way—e.g., “United Way for Animals” and the “Animal Miracle Network.”

• Wayne Carter, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, who described the vision and mission of the newly established Center for Animal Health Innovation: to increase early-stage animal health research funding and accelerate the development of products to address unmet commercial needs.

On day two of the summit, speakers discussed how to bolster the health and well-being of veterinarians, who, according to research, are much more likely than the general population—and even other healthcare professionals—to experience emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and burnout. Several programs were presented as models that could be applied more broadly across the profession to help veterinarians develop and maintain a healthy emotional equilibrium. They included:

• The Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE), founded by Rick DeBowes, DVM, MS, DACVS, and Kathy Ruby, PhD, of Washington State University, a three- to five-day program available to both veterinary students and practitioners. “VLE is all evidence-based,” DeBowes says. “The experiential and emotional aspects of the program reinforce learning, raise awareness and build resistance to future problems.”

• The Resident and Faculty Wellness Program at Oregon Health Sciences University, where Sydney Ey, PhD, works with physicians to manage the challenges of long hours, the risk of malpractice lawsuits, unexpected negative outcomes with patients, and dealing with patients’ intense emotional reactions.

• The “Minnesota Experiment,” in which veterinary students at the University of Minnesota participate in a VLE-like program and are required to take 11.5 hours over three years to develop nontechnical competencies focused on relationship-building, autonomous action, strong communication and innovative thinking. “While it’s difficult to measure the results of our program quantitatively, we can see anecdotally that students are more engaged—and faculty have had to adapt to a more active learning style,” says Associate Dean Laura Molgaard, DVM.

“This year I saw more collaboration, participation and networking than ever before,” says Tony Ueber, MBA, who hosted his first Industry Summit this year as Banfield’s president and CEO. “I feel energized by the great speakers and important topics we addressed—examining the underfunding of companion animal research and raising awareness about the well-being of veterinarians was a step in the right direction for the health of the industry and profession.”

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