AVMA funnels big money into big research

In a move designed to provide deeper insight into animal health and the veterinary profession, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is funneling half a million dollars toward new initiatives to strengthen economics of the veterinary profession and advance veterinary research and discovery.

In the June 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), the AVMA will announce it will undertake an economic analysis of the U.S. veterinary workforce, and will fund a national network to support health and wellness studies that benefit companion animals and horses.

AVMA strategic funds will pay for the two initiatives, which will end up totaling more than half a million dollars. Up to $330,000 will be spent on the workforce study, and $250,000 to implement the network of research program.

The association approved both proposals in April; work on the study begins this year, and is expected to be completed in 2013.

According to the AVMA, the workforce study will identify, quantify and evaluate various economic, demographic, technologic and sociologic factors that influence the supply and demand for veterinarians and veterinary services across the nation.

An economics consulting firm will conduct the study, and will also create a veterinary workforce forecasting model to estimate future supply and demand.

Knowing how various factors can drive demand for veterinary services will help to ensure the profession’s economic viability, according to Link Welborn, chair of the Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee.

"The relative supply of veterinarians and the demand for the services of those veterinarians obviously has a significant impact on the economics of the profession," Welborn said in the JAVMA article. "Understanding the dynamics of supply and demand for each of the major segments within the veterinary workforce is critical to understanding and potentially influencing the overall economics of those segments."

In gaining a big picture of the veterinary workforce, the AVMA hopes it will be able to have a positive impact on individual members of the profession, as well.

A recent study released May 30, 2012 by the National Research Council showed that veterinary workforce needs are not currently being met.

The condition of the present academic veterinary community may be leading research, food security, and public health needs to a train wreck if the current course is not altered, according to the report.

At the present rate, the academic veterinary community will not produce enough veterinarians for faculty teaching and research positions, nor for jobs in federal research and regulatory agencies, the pharmaceutical and biologics industry, and state diagnostic laboratories, according to the report.

The report notes that though the supply of veterinarians is growing, more than half of veterinary students are pursuing training in companion animal or pet medicine rather than the research, food security and public health sectors.

The economy has also handicapped students who may have gone on to seek Ph.D. training for faculty teaching and research positions, burdening them under massive student debt and keeping them from pursuing further education and key jobs in the public sector, according to the report.

The AVMA’s national network of animal health studies, tentatively dubbed the Animal Health Network (AHN), will be designed to increase investment in pet and equine health studies by joining like-minded foundations together in research collaboration. The AVMA cited the Cat Health Network as a successful species-specific pilot project of the AHN.

For the Cat Health Network, several feline organizations and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) came together to provide $100,000 annually for feline health studies in U.S. and foreign laboratories.

The AVMF says the AHN might model its marketing and business strategy after the Children’s Miracle Network, where donors could make contributions to a local chapter. Donors could elect to have their donation go to a specific project, or could donate to the fund as a whole.

In the JAVMA article, Council on Research Chair Kent Lloyd said such a network is long overdue.

"The Animal Health Network has long been a dream for the members of the (Council on Research), who have spent several years discussing and working with AVMA to address the desperate need for increasing support for research into diseases and disorders that afflict animals, particularly companion animals," Lloyd said in JAVMA.

Lloyd said the new network would expand scientific investigation into enhanced diagnostics, novel therapeutics and new preventative strategies to improve animal health.

According to JAVMA, the millions of dollars put toward companion animal and equine health studies in the United States every year pale in comparison with the billions spent on human and livestock health investigations. The lack of a national organization to coordinate such research may be one cause for the disparity in funding, the AVMA said.
Read more on the new initiatives from JAVMA.