National Report - Governments have fallen, diseases conquered and new technologies have changed the face of medicine.

NATIONAL REPORT — Governments have fallen, diseases conquered and new technologies have changed the face of medicine.

Nearly 100 veterinarians participated in discussions over the last two years, says retired University of Georgia Dean Keith Prasse, an architect of a project designed to help steer veterinary education into the future.

A lot happens in 25 years.

For veterinary medicine, there's one constant, according to a new report sponsored by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC): "The single characteristic that distinguishes veterinarians, in every role they play, is their unique relationship with animals, operating at the interface between society and animals."

It's a big thought that will remain the cornerstone for this profession for the next quarter of a century and beyond.

Veterinary education's "Foresight Report" seeks to offer a series of ideas for academia to design a system that will be able to react and meet major changes almost certain in the next 25 years, says Dr. Keith Prasse, retired dean of the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine, who was considered one of the architects in the 2006 Foresight Project commissioned by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and authored by the Ottawa-based consulting firm Norm Willis Group. Ultimately, this broad-based project brought together 95 professionals and propagated 45 professional recommendations designed for grist in strategic planning for academia.

"You cannot predict the future," Prasse explains in an interview with DVM Newsmagazine, "but you can create a system that will effectively and efficiently respond to changes as they are needed. How are we going to come up with a curriculum that is flexible enough to rapidly adapt to changing societal needs?"

Expansion of species tracking within veterinary curricula led the list, Prasse says, and the result may signal a need to overhaul state board licensing and examinations, a far more controversial proposition. The report calls for limited licensure or a new system of flexible licensure, and encourages state licensing boards to pick up the conversation.

Veterinary medical education must change, the report concludes. "A decision to broaden the scope and potential of veterinary medical education is fundamental for the profession to navigate this transition."

Fast Fact

Species tracking within veterinary education is an idea that took a foothold in academia in the late 1980s. This report calls for its widespread expansion. The idea, Prasse explains, is to offer veterinary students more in-depth education in the areas they have chosen to pursue, like companion-animal medicine or public health. The vision is that during the last 18 months of study, a veterinary student would be immersed in the student's chosen area of focus. "The other beauty is that over time schools can make adaptations to the curriculum to accommodate what the hiring community needs," he reports.

Simultaneously, veterinary education needs to branch out. Even though 80 percent of veterinary graduates are entering companion-animal practice today, the report cited 10 other pathways for professional focus, including food-production animals, foreign-animal disease, non-traditional animals, species specialists, public health, aquatic animals, zoo animals, wildlife, laboratory animals and regulatory veterinary medicine.

Veterinary education's reach needs to extend even further when you look at areas of application, including business, crisis management, research diagnostics, teaching, allied fields and discipline specialties.

Skills of the future might need to include studies in ecosystems, comparative medicine, bio-informatics, genomics, proteomics and the ability to "interface between science and policy."

The process looked 25 years down the road and identified a series of paths veterinary medicine could march down.

Hot-button issues today like escalating student debt, shortages of rural area veterinarians, hopefully will be solved, Prasse says. So, the report recognized the issues but didn't seek to address them.

Tracking, however, "would be a direct assault on student debt. I believe that the student who would take that professional area of focus and have greater depth of learning in that chosen area is going to command a higher starting salary." The bigger the starting salary, the easier to pay down educational loans, Prasse contends.

The concept is a fundamental educational shift that will better prepare veterinary students interested in small-animal medicine to enter small-animal practice.

Reflecting on the future: You can't predict it, but you can build an educational system that responds to society's changing demands, says Dr. Keith Prasse, a key player in the Foresight Project from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

The objective, Prasse says, is to "ensure exposure to a broad expanse of expertise that veterinarians are expected to deal with.

"There are a lot of aspects to the report that dealt with alliances, partnerships, funding and business models. All of it is important, but ultimately the discussions were in the context of what this will mean for veterinary medical education," Prasse adds.

"For me personally, it is an opportunity to build on the positive experience we have had for providing students with...electives that they can focus in an area of emphasis and tracking as it exists today."

Key recommendations of the foresight report

The report adds, "This is a pivotal time for the profession. Leadership, collaboration and a shared vision will determine its destiny."

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