Corporate players shelve plan to lower licensing hurdle


Sacramento, Calif. - Corporate veterinary medicine has walked away from a legislative bid to ease California's license requirements - for now.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Corporate veterinary medicine has walked away from a legislative bid to ease California's license requirements — for now.

At presstime, officials with Banfield, the Pet Hospital and VCA Antech report they're backing off Assembly Bill 2760, which proposed softening California's competency criteria for practitioners seeking licensure from other states. The move, designed to ease a reported manpower drought in areas of California, follows the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) Board of Governors' unanimous vote last month to oppose any reduction of licensure requirements outlined in the Veterinary Medicine Practice Act, which critics argue is strict when compared to other states.

Known as a placeholder bill, AB 2760 suggests undetermined changes to state requirements that most incoming veterinarians must work under a California DVM for up to a year or sit for the state board exam. California is just one of a handful of states that requires more than the national exam and a standard jurisprudence test for entry, explains the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

Such a "cumbersome" licensure process acts as a deterrent for out-of-state veterinarians, compounding California's difficulty in attracting DVMs, says Dr. Ray Glick, Banfield's senior vice president of Governmental and Professional Relations.

"We have right now openings for over 60 veterinarians in California, and we could take 100 if we could find them," he says. "We're going to reach out to all key parties, and we'll see if they're willing to join a coalition to discuss this. We want to open a dialogue with CVMA."

CVMA postures against change

Such talks, should CVMA participate, aren't likely to sway the group from its stance that California's licensure requirements must go unchanged. While Banfield plans to ask leaders with the California Veterinary Medical Board, University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UC-Davis) and Western University's veterinary college to weigh in, CVMA questions the perceived shortage as well as how much licensure hurdles play a role in discouraging practitioners. California boasts the nation's highest number of licensed veterinarians at 8,904. More than 6,800 actually reside in the state.

"UC-Davis is increasing its class size and Western is graduating its first class; we definitely don't want to reduce the requirements any further," CVMA Executive Director Valerie Fenstermaker says. "We're not interested in providing input on this issue other than to say the system is working fine like it is."

It's true practices are searching for associates, but an actual lack of veterinarians isn't reality, CVMA Past President Dr. Jon Klingborg explains.

"An owner can still see veterinarians either the same day or the next day, and that tells me there's no shortage of veterinarians," he says. "My advice: Consolidate your practice with someone else. There's no law that says a veterinarian has to work in a one- or two-doctor practice. Corporate veterinary practices have a difficult time hiring veterinarians. Is that the fault of the state licensing board?

"We've got more veterinarians in the state than other states in the nation, so someone's able to pass that test and come here to work."

Employee's market

Dr. Ron Boyd is one of those DVMs. The Kansas State University graduate returned home to California in 2003, paying for travel, lodging and airfare to take the state board exam held in Sacramento twice a year. While Boyd passed and now works at a Banfield hospital in Upland, Calif., he knows successful classmates who've had difficulty with the system.

"I had to sit through a knowledge-based multiple-choice test that has notoriety for being very difficult to pass, and I think isn't as relative as the national exam," he says. "It was a lengthy drawn-out process that I definitely think deterred some of my classmates."

Now Boyd says he receives unsolicited job offers almost daily, whether they're letters in the mail or phone calls at work. "I've even had veterinarians show up at the reception desk asking to see me," he says. "They don't even know me or my quality of medicine. Right now the only ones benefiting from this is the non-owning associate veterinarian."

Dr. Roger Tenney, owner of an agency that provides relief services to practices, views the labor drought from a different perspective: "I've heard a lot about this severe shortage of veterinarians, but we look at it in terms of availability. The increasing number of veterinarians wanting to work part-time could play a role, or there could just be a shortage of the kind of veterinarians wanting to buy a practice."

While CVMA offers no statistics or polling to validate these opinions, Fenstermaker believes California's high cost of living and sky-high housing prices act as additional deterrents for veterinarians considering a move to the state.

Backing off

VCA cofounder and Chief Operating Officer Art Antin admits those factors might play a role, but the company has turned away acquisitions based on inherited manpower shortages. "It's a really big problem in the state not just for Banfield and VCA," he says. Easing licensure restrictions will bring more practitioners to California, he explains.

For that reason, VCA continues to champion the cause, although the public company is not ready to undertake the expensive and time-consuming battle tied to challenging the state's licensure requirements this year.

"We don't want to push it right now because we're running our company, but it will come," Antin says. "And we wouldn't be doing this just for us. Realistically there's a need for most veterinary hospitals in the state."

Inside AB 2760

While Banfield, The Pet Hospital and VCA Antech recently dumped immediate efforts to ease California's licensure system for incoming practitioners, the now-defunct Assembly Bill 2760 sought to open discussion on key licensure requirements. The bill highlighted the following California requirements:

1) Graduates of American Veterinary Medical Association accredited veterinary programs currently can be considered for licensure by endorsement in California after practicing clinical veterinary medicine a minimum four out of five years. They must also complete a course on regionally specific diseases. Proponents of the bill sought to lower the time element required for endorsement.

2) The California State Board is a testing measurement additional to the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam or the National Board Examination and Clinical Competency Test. Proponents of the bill sought to ease requirements tied to the state exam or at least make it available on line and more frequently than twice a year.

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