Veterinary officials respond to globalization demand


During the next few years, more foreign veterinary schools are likely to seek U.S. accreditation, bringing a global dimension to the profession.

During the next few years, more foreign veterinary schools are likely to seek U.S. accreditation, bringing a global dimension to the profession.

Ten foreign veterinary schools currently are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Four are in Canada, three in the United Kingdom, and one each in the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia. Four other schools currently are seeking accreditation in Dublin, Vienna, Sydney and Melbourne, says Dr. Don Simmons, director of the AVMA's Education and Research Division and liaison to the Council on Education.

UNAM's new teaching hospital prodded it to apply for accreditation from the AVMA in April. It will take the school two to four years to complete the process.

Instruction is in English at all the accredited foreign schools except the University of Utrecht and the University of Montreal, and at all the schools seeking accreditation except the University of Vienna. So the pool of accredited veterinary graduates is largely English-speaking in a rapidly globalizing America.

But the need for veterinarians who speak other languages is growing, especially in Spanish-speaking communities. In the 2000 Census, 12.5 percent of the population was of Hispanic or Latino origin, a figure that demographic experts expect to rise. Where are the veterinarians going to come from to meet the needs of this community?

One school that is likely to begin the accreditation process in the near future is the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), in Mexico City. UNAM has shown interest in U.S. accreditation, and its U.S. ties have been strengthened after it opened a teaching hospital, which was built in partnership with Banfield, The Pet Hospital.

"In early 2003 we visited UNAM to check out what they were doing. We found out there was a real interest in their part in looking globally," says Dr. Jeff Brant, president of Banfield, International operations.

The rotation of Mexican veterinary students through Banfield's teaching hospital gives the company an opportunity to connect with people who could fill needs in the United States, Brant says.

"From Banfield's perspective, it's a chance to enter a new market, learn about the culture, people, language, the pets, diseases and really serve as a base to introduce ourselves to the vet community," he says.

Brant says UNAM is eager to gain accreditation, and the AVMA is already paying attention.

"Based on the discussions we've had, they believe that UNAM is certainly ready, willing and able to be accredited in the next two years," he says.

UNAM submitted its application for accreditation to the AVMA in late April, but it's both impossible and inappropriate to speculate on if or when the school would be successful, Simmons says. Typically, a new, foreign institution can earn accreditation in two to four years.

Dr. Leon Russell, vice president of the World Veterinary Association (WVA), believes the veterinary community should focus on maintaining high-quality veterinary education and improving veterinary education where there is room for improvement. He says one thing the WVA can do is to encourage schools to upgrade their programs and seek accreditation.

Manpower debate

Specifically in the United States, the question of whether there is a shortage of veterinarians is a complicated one.

"I think that if you talk to a lot of different people who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, you'd get a wide range of opinion," says Dr. Jim Nave, the AVMA globalization agent for education and licensure.

Certainly there is agreement that some specialties within veterinary medicine are underserved.

"There are needs in the area of food systems and food safety," adds Dr. Janver Krehbiel, interim dean of the veterinary school at Michigan State University.

A number of food-supply and veterinary organizations, including the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), have combined to form the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition, which will produce a report on the needs of the food-supply field by late summer.

"We have some data that suggest that if we look at food systems, the number of vets that are in practice are addressing 9 billion poultry in the United States. There are about 70 to 75 veterinarians that have oversight of 90 percent of those 9 billion," says Dr. Bennie Osburn, dean of the veterinary school at the University of California-Davis.

Another area where the need for veterinarians is acute is public health. With recent threats of infectious diseases spread by animals, such as West Nile Virus, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, monkeypox and Newcastle disease, the need for veterinarians in public health is more important than ever.

Krehbiel says veterinary schools must adjust their curricula to meet these challenges.

"Certainly we have a responsibility to be alert to the potential of some of the problems that have plagued Europe in the last few years," he says.

Dr. Steve Chu, senior vice president for global research and development at Fort Dodge Animal Health, says it's important for the field to be prepared for possible public-health issues.

"You can't wait until more disease occurs to say you need more vets," he says.

Need for generalists

Many people believe that regardless of specialty, the need for veterinarians in the United States is growing. Brant estimates the demand for veterinary services is increasing at about 7 percent annually, while the total number of practicing veterinarians in the United States has remained relatively flat.

Osburn cites a study done by the AAVMC that concluded that a comparison of the population growth of the United States and the current number of beginning veterinary students shows the veterinary profession must take action to provide for the needs of the community.

"If we make no changes, we will need the equivalent of about nine additional veterinary colleges in about 40 to 45 years," he says. "We think that there should be at least another 200 entering students per year at this time."

But change might not need to occur in the short term. Osburn says even with immediate action at the existing veterinary schools, "We would probably not be able to get to the point where we would turn out additional students for six to eight years."

But Nave says the most important aspect of globalization is the need for quality in education and practice.

"What we're trying to do really is not about manpower; it's about quality of education," he says. "Even though people try to tie them together, I don't believe that's appropriate."

He says quality is the most important issue for the profession in the face of globalization. "If we lower the quality of education, decrease our standards, then we as a profession will become irrelevant."

Easing isolation fears

Experts stress that the changes globalization will bring to veterinary medicine are exciting for the United States and other countries.

"I do believe that the veterinary profession has much to offer the rest of the world," Osburn says. "We should not be in isolation. We should be working with various cultures."

Embracing change for innovation is key to thriving amid globalization, Brant adds.

"I think it's important for people to understand the world is changing," he says. "We are truly in a global economy. If vets will look at it as an opportunity rather than a threat, they would realize we are a very diverse cultural society, and there are opportunities to be found."

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