Students educate DVMs on NCVEI tools


Based on the success of a recent initiative, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) is recruiting students' help to bring more practitioners up to speed on its financial tools.

Based on the success of a recent initiative, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) is recruiting students' help to bring more practitioners up to speed on its financial tools.

NCVEI offers online economic benchmarking tools for practices to compare fees and other pertinent financials with practices in their region and nationally. The group has signed on 6,100 practices to its economic tools since 2001 via word-of-mouth and presentations at state and national meetings. But experts say certain untapped opportunities have potential to reach an even greater chunk of the veterinary community.

Howard Rubin

Ben Wileman, third-year veterinary student at Iowa State University, envisioned such an opportunity. His conversation with an Iowa practitioner at a meeting led to an unprecedented effort to recruit 103 practices in Iowa or about 25 percent of the state's practices to input data in the NCVEI's benchmarking tools.

"I knew about NCVEI's initiative," says Wileman. "In talking to this practitioner, he said he'd be interested if somebody showed him how to do the program. I came up with the idea to go out to the practices. It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be."

In the end, Wileman, with the help of second-year student Beau Bosma, visited practices in a four-month span in a NCVEI pilot project that may expand to Michigan State University and other schools soon, according to NCVEI officials.

Instrumental in funding and execution of the project were Howard Rubin, NCVEI president, Dr. Pat Halbur of ISU and former president of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association and Dr. Tom Johnson, IVMA executive director. The IVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association, NCVEI and industry contributed to the project.

Rubin says this program is designed to be a veterinarian awareness initiative. "Students are sharing experiences they've had one-on-one with veterinarians not only in using the tools but their own economic circumstances. As we gather this information, we hope to use it to make our programs much more in tune with needs of veterinarians at a grassroots level."

Prior to the students' practice visits, Rubin invited the students to NCVEI headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., for a half-day crash course on the benchmarking tools.

Nuts and bolts

Then, Bosma and Wileman, who were paid for their efforts, contacted at least four practices in Iowa's 21 districts for a total of 150 out of an estimated 400 practices in the state. (Prior to the project, 85 practices used the tools.) The majority of the practices contacted were mixed animal - reflective of the practices in Iowa - with only a dozen being exclusively small animal.

Practitioners received an explanatory packet of information prior to the students' arrival. Then Wileman and Bosma visited the practices, spending many 60 to 70 hour weeks assisting practitioners in completing the modules, while fielding questions, comments and arguments.

As the project unfolded, surprising to Halbur was practitioners' lack of awareness when students visited them, even though they had been "repeatedly exposed" to it through newsletters and journals and at meetings. "We really felt we needed a different route if this was going to be successful."

Profession still unaware

Successful indeed, says Halbur, who adds practitioners were overwhelmingly receptive to students' visiting their practices. "Practitioners are extremely receptive to students, perhaps more receptive to students than they are to state veterinary medical associations or university people or AVMA. When students came in, they really opened up. That unique angle is what made this successful."

The project now enables practitioners to measure their practice against their colleagues in state, according to Johnson of IVMA.

Instant benefits

"We now have enough data on fees and expenses within the state of Iowa that we can truly compare Iowa practices to Iowa practices," he says.

That is now true for many states nationally, according to Rubin, who says a minimum 20 practices must be enrolled per state to allow reliable data comparison.

Rubin is excited about the turnout of the program. "One, it gives us the opportunity to work directly with veterinarians who are on the front lines and really address their concerns.

"This is more hands-on and more effective (than presentations) because … once you've left that practice, you know what's happened specifically. When you make a presentation, it's more passive in the sense that you're asking people to do something and you're watching to see whether they've done it," he adds.

Overall, Wileman says the project "definitely" enlightens him on the economics of practice. "You get to see the practices, so you get to see the big picture. Then, you also get to see … the differences between how (they) operate and their wide range of charging."

Students' perspective

Bosma says the project "really opened my eyes" to what it takes to be a successful veterinarian. "Not only do you need the appropriate skills, but more important, are your communication skills and business skills."

Halbur of ISU is counting on funding to revisit the program next summer, this time targeting food animal practitioners. NCVEI expects to launch financial tools for food animal DVMs in early 2004, pending the plans of the organized food animal task force; equine is expected to be completed by year end.

Looking ahead

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