Council on Education 'listening session' elicits veterinary school accreditation concerns


Veterinarians express frustration surrounding suspicions of financial motivation, cronyism, misplaced trust.

The divisions in the room were obvious. Veterinary school deans, association leaders and other industry insiders sat together, looking polished in business suits and wearing grim expressions. Rank-and-file veterinarians also huddled together, mostly in the back, looking scrappy and ready to rumble. To say the least, tensions were high.

The group was gathered for a “listening session” hosted by the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE) at the North American Veterinary Conference Jan. 18 in Orlando. A representative handful of COE members sat at the front of the room while veterinarians expressed concerns about the current process of veterinary school accreditation. The goal was not for the COE to respond to the comments but simply to listen; all the remarks were recorded and transcribed to be made available to the entire council. A professional moderator, Daniel Stone, was enlisted to keep the proceedings orderly.

The session served more or less as a recap of several years' worth of complaints and allegations brought by a segment of the profession concerned that the COE is accrediting veterinary schools for reasons other than the best interests of the profession. It followed closely on the heels of a hearing by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) in December in Washington, D.C., after which NACIQI members instructed the COE to reach out to alienated veterinary stakeholders and attempt to reconcile differences.

Many of the COE's critics point to what they believe is an inherent conflict of interest between the AVMA and the COE. Their view is that accreditation decisions are being driven more by financial motivations than anything else. Jeff Lacroix, DVM, brought this up during the session. “There's a lot of money to be made educating veterinarians because there are a lot of people who want to be veterinarians,” he said.

Because of this conflict of interest, critics contend, COE accreditors are inconsistent in their application of standards. The most notable example of this, they say, is the accreditation of schools that do not have a teaching hospital. These schools instead rely on the “distributive” model of clinical training, which places students in private practices, shelters and other veterinary hospitals in the community for the hands-on portion of their education.

Many veterinarians are also unhappy with what they see as cronyism on the council, with members appointed and dismissed according to their willingness to go along with prevailing opinion. One past council decision in particular rankles some veterinarians.

“Mary Beth Leininger was dismissed because of her comment during [an AVMA] House of Delegates meeting about available resources for foreign accreditation,” said Eric Bregman, VMD, past president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society.

Leininger, DVM, a veterinary industry executive and former AVMA president who is petitioning for reinstatement on the council, herself commented during the proceedings, echoing many COE critics' view that the council should be independent of the AVMA. “The council needs to have its own budget,” she said. “It needs to have its own staff. It needs to have its own legal advice.”

All of these suspicions have raised questions of basic trust for many veterinarians. “I can't put my faith in an organization that doesn't do the right thing or look out for my interests,” said Greg Nutt, DVM. Don Woodman, DVM, echoed the sentiment. “Why should we have faith in the AVMA's good will and good intention?” he asked.

One veterinarian and financial consultant, Dick Goebel, DVM, pointed to what he saw as a redundancy of investment in each of the schools-as required by the accreditation process. “It seems like every school in the United States duplicates what everybody else has in terms of capital investment, whether it's educational facilities, research facilities, teaching hospitals, equipment, research labs and so on,” he said. “This flies in the face of cost of delivery. ... Is the council working on eliminating the unnecessary redundancy that drives up the cost of education?”

Despite their obvious frustration, several veterinarians expressed appreciation for the COE's efforts. “This is my first experience where the council is actually listening to what we are saying,” said Frank Walker, DVM.

Paul Pion, DVM, DACVIM, said it was time for the profession to move forward. “This is not personal,” he said, addressing the members of the council. “You've put in lots of time and effort and this must be hard to hear. But we've been talking at each other rather than to each other. We have to find a resolution. We've wasted too much time on this issue. We need to move forward and stop fighting.”

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