Educational leaders tinker with VTH model


The ideal veterinary teaching hospital should equip students with a precise blend of the clinical side of veterinary education as well as appropriate management and leadership skills.

The ideal veterinary teaching hospital should equip students with a precise blend of the clinical side of veterinary education as well as appropriate management and leadership skills.

That's the thrust behind the first formal study to create a specific model for all university veterinary teaching hospitals to adopt. Led by Dr. Jim Lloyd, a veterinary professor at Michigan State University (MSU), the study is dubbed the veterinary teaching hospital "business model."

Dr. Jim Lloyd

"We hope to model the skills, knowledge, aptitudes and attitudes in the teaching hospitals so students see those in action, can expect to see those when they go to practice and also will be able to effectively demonstrate them themselves," says Lloyd of MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.

At press time, Lloyd said an executive summary of the study, which is funded by the American Veterinary Medical Association through the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI), would be published in an October issue of the Journal of the AVMA; NCVEI will subsequently post the entire study online.

"As a project, it arose, because we're interested in developing the non-clinical side of veterinary students," says Lloyd.

Its roots

The study is an outgrowth of the "Skills, Knowledge, Aptitude and Attitude" (SKAA) subcommittee's work with NCVEI. The goal was to actively model such skills in the teaching hospital.

Dr. Lonnie King, dean of MSU's veterinary college, heads up the SKAA subcommittee of NCVEI and contributed to the study. He says, "Veterinary teaching hospitals need to be looked at not only for excellence in clinical medicine but also to lay the foundation for students to understand that being outstanding in business is not detrimental to being a good veterinarian."

Dr. Lonnie King

To construct the ideal teaching hospital model on paper, researchers gleaned published material on management in teaching hospitals. "There wasn't a lot there," concedes Lloyd, except in reference to human health teaching centers. In addition, authors unearthed information written on private practice that could be adapted for teaching hospitals.

Building a model

More importantly, study authors depended on the input of "insiders," i.e. those inside and outside university parameters. Externally, they arranged for focus groups with specialty and nonspecialty practice groups convened by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), AVMA and other veterinary groups. Internally, authors convened faculty- and administrator-focused groups.

"What we found was that people are very passionate about this, not only so we can model these skills, but also so that in the current times of economic stress and budgetary difficulties in higher education, our teaching hospitals can be managed more efficiently and effectively," Lloyd says.

Dr. Link Welborn, president of AAHA, believes the Veterinary Teaching Hospital Business Model Study and associated plans will result in teaching hospitals with "more viable business structures."

Dr. Link Welborn

As for students, Welborn says, "(They) could benefit greatly from the associated exposure and experience with good practice management."

The study authors are quick to clarify what the veterinary teaching hospital doesn't proclaim to be.

Not a mirror

"We recognized out of the gate that the veterinary teaching hospital is not a private practice," says Lloyd.

"But at the same time, the way you manage that hospital, the first principles of management - whether financial, human resources or marketing - are the same across any organization."

Additionally, Lloyd says the study isn't aiming to pit veterinary teaching hospitals more competitively against private specialty hospitals, even if competition may increase. Instead, he says the study should, in theory, benefit all parties.

Private sector impact

"Practitioners will be positively impacted because our students will have seen good management techniques modeled effectively," Lloyd says. "Secondly, implementing this model is going to make the teaching hospital more responsive to the needs of the referring practitioner and improve that relationship."

King says the study provides a win-win for private practitioners when hiring young graduates. "If students come out with an appreciation of good business principles, that's going to carry into their own practices."

Dr. Jack Walther, AVMA president, hopes the study provides students with a solid economic understanding.

Dr. Jack Walther

"What we're hoping is that as the veterinary students graduate and go into practices, they will be ready to assume the responsibility of the client-patient relationship as far as economics.

"One of the hardest things - and I remember this as a young veterinarian - is it's one thing to make a diagnosis, then you always have to talk to the client about how to give the best service possible for the money the client has," Walther says. "Most of the time you don't ever touch that until you get out of veterinary school."

While Lloyd wouldn't release specifics, he says recommendations from the focus groups address enhancing the mission (research, service and teaching) as well as issues related to strategic planning, financial and human resource management, and legal and ethical issues.

In a nutshell

From those recommendations, the authors compiled a list of best practices. Now, Lloyd says veterinary schools are pressuring the study authors to return to schools to report the best practices, because, as he notes, "A lot of the schools are anxious to get the best practices to see how they measure up."

The project's next phase is expected to answer those questions, reports Lloyd.

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